This is one in an occasional series of articles following St. Mary's County elementary school teacher Delphine Lincoln through her first year in the classroom.

Delphine Lincoln is one of the first teachers to arrive at Banneker-Loveville Elementary School each morning.

At 7:45 a.m., she settles into her classroom to prepare for her students' arrival more than an hour later.

And when she leaves to pick up her daughter at day care, it's not a briefcase she takes along, but a crate of files and papers.

When she gets home, she eats and chats with her husband and her daughter, and then rummages through her crate for papers to grade or lesson plans with which to tinker.

This is the life of a first-year teacher who spends her days juggling a family and a classroom full of 23 second-graders.

It's not quite a charmed life, but so far, it's been a fulfilling one, Lincoln says.

When Lincoln left her job as a branch manager for a bank in Georgia, she knew it wasn't going to be an easy ride. At 32, she would be a newcomer and a novice all over again.

She went back to school at the University of North Florida, taking 18 to 20 credit hours each semester and completing three teaching internships before receiving her teaching degree in April.

She began looking for a job in St. Mary's County when her husband was transferred to the Patuxent River Naval Air Station. With school systems across the nation facing a teacher shortage, Lincoln found her skills were in demand.

Two months into her first school year, she's getting the hang of things, but she has realized that what she learned in school couldn't fully prepare her for what she encounters in the classroom.

A careful planner, Lincoln has realized that as much as she outlines every block of the day, there's no telling what will sidetrack a lesson or a student's progress. "There's more to being a teacher than carrying out the perfect lesson plans," she says.

There are the days when her students have music or gym, taking away some of the time she would love to have to teach math.

"We have a busy day. You're going to be away from me a lot. I have to use my time wisely," she told her class one recent day.

There are the many days when she has to help a youngster who has been absent from class get back on track.

"You need to catch up with vocabulary. Maybe we can catch up at recess," she told one boy. Recess isn't sacred time, Lincoln has found--some days it's surplus time that can be used for academics.

Work comes first. "As a teacher, I try to make it as much fun as I can, but some things are not fun," she says.

And then there are the days when Lincoln has to take off work when her daughter gets sick. "Trying to balance being a new teacher with a family is hard," she says.

As a new teacher, Lincoln runs a tight ship, firing out commands to keep an orderly and respectful classroom.

"Brittany, get your book out, join the class."

"Table two, go to the bathroom."

"Tom, don't come in clowning. Go out and come in again. Thank you, sir," she said to a student who ran into the room while making faces.

Lincoln walks around the classroom as her kids jot down answers to questions about a story they read. She studies what each student offers as an answer.

"If I don't, they'll start talking," she says.

During recess, as three of her students take make-up tests, she cringes when they run up to her with shoddy work--the product of their efforts to make it outside for at least a few minutes.

"You're rushing through this. . . . I want to see your best work," Lincoln says.

Their best work is all she wants, and that's what drives her to be a tough teacher.

"I just really want them to get it," she said. "I love to teach."

She calls her students "my kids."

"They are my kids. I have to tell them to go blow their noses," she said. "You do take on that parent role. You tell them, 'You don't hit, you don't push.' " she said.

Lincoln is constantly looking for new methods and tricks.

During the first few weeks of school, her students were arriving in class at 9 a.m. and running all over the place. There had to be something she could do to minimize the chaos, Lincoln said. Her solution? She now gives the students a topic to write about. "I should have been doing that all along," she said.

Someday she'll have all her routines down pat, she said, and she'll know what works and what doesn't work.

At the end of each day, there is one thing to which Lincoln always devotes time. "You're always evaluating, doing self-reflection. How did it go? And you take notes on it," she said.