Super teacher, indeed: Grasmick returns to classroom

October 14, 1992|By Meredith Schlow | Meredith Schlow,Staff Writer

As Maryland's superintendent of schools, Nancy Grasmick doesn't usually spend her mornings making purple monster hand puppets or reading stories to a rambunctious group of first-graders.

But yesterday, at Timber Grove Elementary School in Owings Mills, Dr. Grasmick did just that as she stepped back into the classroom as a teacher for the first time in nearly 10 years.

It was also the first time a state school superintendent has spent a day teaching in the classroom in an effort to become reacquainted with Maryland's students. If Dr. Grasmick gets her way, it will be the first of several such opportunities at all school levels by the end of the year.

"In a position like mine, you can often lose sensitivity to what's happening in a classroom and to the enormous talent and energy that teachers need to have," Dr. Grasmick said.

"I just want to remind myself of that, and of the joy of working with children. I never want to lose that connection. . . . I want to be cognizant of these children's faces when I make recommendations or decisions. I don't want to be a bureaucrat."

After a morning of making puppets, answering questions, distributing glue, finding black crayons and lavishing hugs, compliments and even kisses, Dr. Grasmick said she felt wonderful.

"The children are delightful -- and they're very tolerant of me," she said. "As I said to [their teacher], she could have done this puppet activity in half the amount of time."

The children's regular teacher, Melinda Callis, a high school classmate of Dr. Grasmick's, commended her old friend for her bravery and said other administrators might benefit from a similar challenge.

"I think after a while they forget what it's like," she said. "It might make a difference in some of their decision-making."

At their Western High School reunion last summer, Dr. Grasmick approached Ms. Callis with the idea of re-entering the classroom. The superintendent said she thought Timber Grove would be a good place to ease back into teaching because she knew her former classmate wouldn't hesitate to speak up if she thought the lesson needed to be taken in a different direction.

"She's not going to short-change the children on my behalf," Dr. Grasmick said.

The superintendent previously taught children who were deaf, language-impaired or emotionally handicapped, so teaching first grade was a new experience for her. But the same principles apply to all children, she said.

"You really need to do a lot of planning, to look at the individual needs of each child," she said.

Dr. Grasmick said she hopes to teach a high school course that would require a lot of planning on her part.

"I'd love to do chemistry," she said. "It's a subject I loved in high school."

Dr. Grasmick said she was sure she gained more from her morning at Timber Grove than the students did.

"I went into teaching because I love kids," she said. "And, believe me, there are a lot of people who are angry with me today because I haven't returned phone calls. But I just made a decision that I would carve out this time."

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