Home-grown teachers hie back Former students return to halls of their youth

January 18, 1993|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

Memories flooded Carol Cobb on an August morning 10 years ago when she set foot in Elkridge Elementary School -- her alma mater and now, as a teacher, her workplace.

"I remember seeing flashbacks when I was a kid, playing ball on the field, jumping ropes, having our May Day festivals outside," she said. "I remember sitting in screwed-down desks with inkwell tops . . . and I remember as a child, going through the lessons on the Chesapeake Bay, oysters and Colonial Maryland."

But the building on Old Washington Road had changed. There was carpet over the wooden floors, which used to echo as kids ran through the halls, and there was brightness and color all through the school -- in contrast to the dull gray Mrs. Cobb remembers.

"Since fourth grade, I wanted to be a teacher," she said. "Little did I know I was going to be a teacher back at the school that gave me inspiration to be a teacher."

School officials say they don't keep track of the number of their teachers who graduated from county schools.

But in an informal school survey two years ago, more than 20 teachers -- or about 13 percent -- who were hired that year were graduates of the county's school system.

"If you've been through the system, we obviously know the foundation of your school background is solid," said Patti Caplan, school spokeswoman. "Being part of the county, living in the county, has always been a plus."

Former students who teach in the county say they were inspired by certain teachers and say they had good educational experiences here, according to the survey.

Mrs. Cobb, who was teaching at Guilford Elementary School in 1982, had "eagerly hoped to teach at Elkridge" when she applied for a transfer, she said. She had graduated from the school in 1956 and wanted to teach in the community where she grew up.

Coincidentally, Mrs. Cobb teaches next door to another Elkridge elementary graduate, Jody Nation, also a second-grade teacher. Mrs. Nation said she feels at home at the school and finds herself teaching kids of her schoolmates and children of her younger brother's friends.

"Parents are still supportive," said Mrs. Nation, who graduated in 1970. "They work with you. They come out for productions. This community is just excellent."

Centennial High graduate and Bollman Bridge Elementary teacher Pamela McDonald, 25, felt she had a leg up when she started teaching here. She had contacts who helped her land a job, and she felt comfortable teaching in the open-space environment in which she grew up.

"I feel that Howard County will take care of its own, and it will take care for the people it provides," she said.

"Sometimes I stop and think -- I enjoy my job so much, it doesn't feel like a job," she said.

When students find out that Oakland Mills High School alumna Laura Manning is a product of the school system, they "really enjoy it because they know you know the area, and they get a kick out of it," she said. "Parents have more respect for you because they know your background. Other teachers like it because they see the fruits of their labor. They teach these kids and years later, they see these kids coming back to teach in the system."

Ms. Manning, 23, student-taught at her alma mater under the wing of her former social studies teacher, Lamont Goode, one of two teachers who inspired her. While she learned a lot, she said, there were minor pitfalls.

"Working at Oakland Mills was weird," she said. "Teachers who taught me tried to make me call them by their first names. And the kids found my senior yearbook."

But there were pluses, too. "I was able to eat in the teachers' lounge, next to the soda machine, something I never did as a student. And I could wander in the halls without a pass."

She's now in her second year at Patapsco Middle School, teaching seventh-grade social studies.

"It's interesting how many Howard County graduates have come back to teach here," she said.

"That says something positive about our school system, about Howard County and about Columbia -- how we want to live here. A lot of people try to get out of their hometown, but we're trying to get back."

Jon Wray, a 1987 Oakland Mills graduate, said coming back gave him the chance to give back to the community that reared him. "Sometimes, it's a little bit easier to understand some of the parents and students and understand some of the values that are around the area," he said. "Here, there is great positive involvement in students' education."

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