Police officer changes his course at midcareer After 20 years of service on the Baltimore force, he's turning to teaching

May 26, 1998|By Erin Texeira | Erin Texeira,SUN STAFF

The class of first-graders gets a taste of what various criminals have faced over the last two decades when Sgt. Craig Pope's voice of authority fills their classroom at Deep Run Elementary School in Elkridge.

"No one should be talking," intones the veteran Baltimore City police officer.

The chatter of the 6-year-olds stops immediately.

But, now and then, when a broad, tender grin replaces Pope's intensely serious expression, it becomes clear why these children scramble to sit near the 42-year-old student teacher at every opportunity. And why they crane their necks to look up at him.

"I've just always enjoyed being around children," Pope says of his midlife career change. "This is something I've always wanted to do."

He's doing it with the help of veteran teacher Sally Maseritz -- who had taught his wife years ago and his two children more recently. Maseritz helped persuade Pope to get his teaching credentials and took him on as a student teacher. Since then, he hasn't looked back.

On Friday, Pope finished his student teaching at Deep Run and headed back to his desk as an administrative aide in the Baltimore Police Department. But, by the time school starts this fall, he hopes to trade his gun and badge for a piece of chalk and a classroom of his own.

At 6 feet 4 inches, Pope dwarfs the children who have filled his class for the past four months.

"He's big, but he's so gentle -- he's almost like the Pied Piper with them," says Maseritz, who has worked with Pope since February.

"I've known him as a parent and a father, and I had no idea if he could really do this," she says. "He's good. He's really good."

Says Christine Pick, parent of a student in the class, "When I first heard he was a police officer, I though, 'Hmmm, I don't know about that.' But he is great with the kids. You'd think he would have some sharp edges and be a little jaded, but he just fits in so well here."

As a mid-career rookie teacher, Pope will not be alone. A worsening teacher shortage nationwide and such recent workplace phenomena as downsizing have sparked a trend: New teachers, who once were expected to start work fresh out of college, now come via many careers.

Programs that offer would-be teachers flexible instruction, such as night classes and the chance to schedule in-class training around a full-time job, are on the rise. Of more than 330 such programs across the country identified by the Boston-based Recruiting New Teachers Inc., more than half have opened since 1990, says Segun Eubanks, vice president of RNT.

"This is a very crucial and very promising pool of teachers," he says. "These adults come into the classroom with more life experience. They're older, more mature."

They are usually in their mid-30s, and are more likely to be men and people of color than recent college graduates, he says. They also are more willing to work with poor and underprivileged populations.

They come from the military, sales, government -- just about any imaginable line of work.

But, according to David B. Young, chairman of the Department of Education at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, police officers are rare. UMBC has a 13-year-old post-baccalaureate teaching program in which Pope enrolled five years ago.

"We did have a former state trooper a while back but police officers? Not many," he says.

Pope wanted to be a teacher when he attended UMBC as an undergraduate in the 1960s, but competition for teaching jobs was fierce at the time. He turned to law enforcement instead.

But he never lost the dream of teaching, he says. And it was Maseritz who inspired him to finally go for it.

Six years ago, Pope's wife, Nancy, went to Deep Run to register their oldest child -- Molly, now a seventh-grader -- for first grade. The teacher's name, Maseritz, was familiar to her: It turned out to be the same woman who had, as an 18-year-old, been Nancy's kindergarten teacher decades earlier in Montgomery County.

Maseritz taught both of the Popes' children and, through parent conferences and conversations, pushed Craig Pope to get into teaching.

The veteran officer, who had worked patrol, human resources and special events among other assignments, was approaching retirement -- he reached the 20-year mark in February -- and knew he was ready for a change.

"Five or six years ago, we started talking about what he might want to do," Nancy Pope said. "He just said he knew he didn't want to carry a gun anymore. He started talking about education."

For years, Pope took two or three night classes at a time and saved his leave time so that, when he had to take a semester off for student teaching, he would still be able to collect a paycheck.

He has done it all with the blessing of his supervisor at the police department, Col. Joseph R. Bolesta.

"I knew this was in his plan a year or so ago," Bolesta said. "I think he'll make an excellent teacher. I'm going to miss him, but anyone out there should be thrilled to have him teach their children."

Pub Date: 5/26/98

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