Laid-off Teacher Back 'Making A Difference' For Students


September 24, 1990|By Dianne Williams Hayes

It was a long summer for former Glen Burnie High business education teacher Joyce Coleman. In June she was laid off after 18 years in the school. She wasn't sure what she'd do next.

Coleman found solace amid doubt in the thought of 200 students protesting her layoff in front of the school and their parents pleading with board members to not fire her.

And on Sept. 4, she was asked to return to the classroom. This time, it would be in the county's vocational education program.

"If this hadn't worked out, I would have probably taken a neighbor's offer to work with an alternative program for young adults that people have given up on," Coleman said. "My objective is always centered around improving the lives of young people."

In her new position, Coleman works as a vocational evaluator out of Annapolis Middle School, making referrals to the Center for Applied Technology South.

The popular teacher was among those business education teachers who lacked seniority and were laid off because fewer students are signing up for the classes.

She still becomes teary-eyed when she speaks of her former students at Glen Burnie who supported her.

After final exams on June 9, a well-organized protest began in front of the high school. Students and teachers were carrying signs saying "Quality over Seniority" and chanting "save our teachers."

Student after student stood beneath the flagpole speaking into a megaphone, sharing stories of how Coleman touched their lives and helped with their personal problems.

That department has been dramatically affected since most students now learn keyboard in computer classes. Students are bypassing business education classes for advanced computer courses outside of the business education department.

But despite the department's troubles, Coleman was still able to attract students because of what she offered in and out of the classroom. Students such as Angel Gaither described her as a "second mom" who gave up her own time to help the student get through "bad times." Student Lori Makarovich said Coleman used her lunch break for two weeks to tutor her.

The same qualities that won the admiration of students and co-workers will not be wasted in her new position as a vocational evaluator.

With an apron draped around her, Coleman patiently helped Danny, a special education student, move through each vocational assessment station to determine his interests and skill levels.

"You did a good job," she reassured him, after he washed dishes and checked on the brownies baking in the oven. "That's great."

"I'm still serving students and hopefully making a difference in their lives," Coleman said. "I continue to get letters from my students. I miss them, but I decided to only look at the past when it can help the future."

In a way, that's happening already. The courses she has taken every summer to stay abreast of changes in education are coming in handy, especially those in special education.

As one of four evaluators, Coleman works with special education and disadvantaged students in identifying their vocational interests and assessing their abilities.

Students are referred by school counselors, who use the evaluations to aid students in class and in making decisions about vocational education training. The evaluators interview and train students in areas including cosmetology, electronics, assembly, cooking and auto mechanics.

Mary Piatt, a vocational evaluation technician who has worked in this area since the department was formed 10 years ago, praised Coleman's work. She said Coleman is too valuable to let go elsewhere.

"She can't go anywhere," Piatt said. "She has to stay here. It's working out very well.

"You have to be humanistic and a jack of all trades for this job."

After a summer of anxiety, Coleman is back in school doing what she loves best -- working with students.

"I can just say thanks to everyone who supported me."

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