TSU recruits ex-Peace Corps teachers for education program Classroom experiences used in public schools

June 07, 1993|By Ed Brandt | Ed Brandt,Staff Writer

Molly Mullally expected culture shock when she went to the Central African Republic to teach math in a village school as a member of the Peace Corps.

She didn't expect it when she arrived in Baltimore in 1991 to teach math and French at Canton Middle School in Highlandtown.

"I came here with a lot of false confidence," she said. "I thought I knew how to control a class after teaching in Africa, but I didn't understand the nature of the urban student."

Ms. Mullally, 26, a graduate of Middlebury College in Vermont, is part of a new two-year master of arts in teaching program at Towson State University that recruits ex-Peace Corps members to teach in public schools.

Towson State is one of 15 schools in the nation participating in the Peace Corps program, "Returned Volunteers in Service to America," which began seven years ago at Columbia University.

One of the Peace Corps' goals is to put its volunteers' experience to use when they return home, according to Lois Stover, director of the Peace Corps master's program at TSU.

Responsibility to urban education

"For the most part, the Peace Corps students have fit in well at TSU and in the urban schools," she said. "They make us aware of TSU's responsibility to urban education and the good things that are going [on] there. It's also a way to bring bright, highly motivated individuals into public education."

The first class of nine students received master's degrees at Towson State's commencement in May. A second class of 16 began studies last summer and will graduate next spring. They attend Towson State part time to earn a master's and teach full time in Baltimore City's public schools.

The Abell Foundation provided funding for the first two Peace Corps classes at Towson State. The Dewitt Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund is providing money for the class beginning this summer.

While in the Central African Republic, a country about the size of Texas with a population of 3 million, Ms. Mullally taught math in a small village to grades seven through 10. Her students' ages ranged from 12 to 22.

"They were highly motivated, because schooling is their only way to success," she said. "There is no second chance."

The transition to Canton Middle School was difficult, particularly her first year.

"I had felt all along I would be good at teaching, but I didn't know how to handle the students," she said. "They have a lot of tricks up their sleeves. . . . They see a weakness and jump right in."

The abrupt change caught her unprepared. But school administrators and veteran teachers helped her understand the dynamics of Canton's classrooms. She decided she would learn to control her students.

"They're not bad kids, but there's always a couple to start trouble, and the others follow along," she said.

Those types of classroom problems don't exist in the Central African Republic, where about half the population is Christian and polygamous.

"They have a strong, patriarchal family structure," Ms. Mullally said. "The students give you respect."

They do so in a country with few resources, under conditions most Americans would consider primitive.

"They live in mud huts with no electricity. I lived in a mud hut, but it was pretty nice by their standards," Ms. Mullally said.

"They had practically nothing in the way of school supplies and no books. They just copied what I wrote on the blackboard."

Ms. Mullally said she's learned how to handle her urban students and is "very happy at Canton now." She has become involved with Canton's new lacrosse team. She assists with the paperwork, attends most practices and is fascinated by the changes the sport brought about in some of the students.

"Grades and school attendance went up, discipline problems went down," she said.

Many of the ex-Peace Corps teachers -- who receive scholarship support and earn about $22,000 a year as beginning teachers

in the Baltimore public school system -- plan to stay at their current schools.

Wayne Shapiro, 31, is one of them. He taught English and math for two years in Papua New Guinea, and now teaches sixth grade at Robert Poole Middle School in Hampden.

Impact on students

He specializes in teaching through simulation by structuring a mock Congress or city council, or describing the conditions surrounding the Cuban missile crisis.

"I gave them the facts on the crisis, and they figured out a solution. Then I told them what happened," said Mr. Shapiro, a UCLA graduate. "It seems to reach the students, and I think it's having an impact."

Kelly Lehto, 29, a graduate of Southern Illinois, taught English for two years in a small village in Morocco and now teaches English and French, kindergarten through sixth grade, at Roland Park Elementary School. She also plans to stay where she is. "Roland Park has a day care center, which is perfect for me," she said.

Eileen Wallace, 27, a graduate of George Washington University, RTC spent two years teaching math in a mountain village in Honduras. She now teaches Spanish to sixth- and eighth-graders at Roland Park Middle School, and takes a particular interest in handling the "oddball" student who disrupts classroom work.

"You have to bring that person into the mainstream, make that person feel useful and accepted," she said. As for the other students, "You want them to think about how to make things better."

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