Public schools should invest in their young instructorsAs...

SATURDAY MAILBOX

July 03, 1999

Public schools should invest in their young instructors

As a middle school teacher who is leaving the Baltimore school system this summer to move to Tennessee, I had a mixed reaction to The Sun's article "Baltimore fires 278 teachers" (June 24).

On the one hand, it is good to see that the city has finally gotten up the guts to challenge the union and get rid of some teachers. City schools harbor hundreds of poor teachers who remain simply because the union seems too strong to confront.

At the same time, I am concerned over the fact that most of the teachers fired were new to the city and uncertified. How does the city expect to attract new teachers if they fear being fired after their first year?

I joined the ranks of city teachers 3 years ago, uncertified, through the Teach for America program. My first year was long and difficult, but overall I enjoyed my experience and will miss my students and colleagues immensely. I will not, however, miss the poorly run city school system.

The first year of teaching is always a challenge, but in the city system many things make it almost impossible, including poor curriculum, poor student achievement and lack of parental and administrative support.

I know that many first-year teachers feel like they are drowning with no one to save them.

Yes, many first-year teachers are underqualified and have a hard time. Maybe they don't do the best job that first year.

But I have seen just as many tenured, allegedly qualified teachers, who remain in their jobs simply because they are tenured.

I applaud the Board of School Commissioners for wanting to weed out poor quality teachers, but I make this suggestion: Get rid of some of the teachers who have been in the system forever and refuse to change and try new things. Keep those young, eager men and women who want to help change a system that needs all the help it can get.

But give them the support they need so that they can become excellent teachers. Don't leave them to figure it out on their own and then ditch them when they have a hard time.

Jennifer Hamilton, Baltimore

Having just completed my third year as a middle school science teacher for the Baltimore city schools, I wanted to respond to The Sun's article on the firing of 278 city teachers.

Baltimore desperately needs new teachers. I am ashamed to read that we have fired several without first supporting their efforts to learn their craft.

When I read about Andre Turner, a teacher who wasn't renewed after one year who had "no supplemental lesson or any assistance," or Cynthia Duncan, a special education teacher (there is a severe shortage of special ed teachers) who said, "There was no help at all," I just want to cry.

It is common knowledge that the first year of any teacher's career is a struggle to reconcile theories of classroom management with the realities of students' daily lives. New teachers can be expected to receive less than satisfactory ratings for classroom management.

They need and expect the support of their principals, the specialists from their department and other faculty members. If this support is not provided, it is those who failed to provide it who should be retrained or replaced.

I did receive the support I needed to flourish as a science teacher in Baltimore.

My principal encouraged my efforts and provided timely evaluations; a specialist came to my school and taught me a method of classroom management that worked; and the city offered workshops for science teachers and provided materials and models for the hands-on activities I use in class. My co-workers checked on me constantly, offering advice and encouragement.

The Baltimore City school system needs to provide this kind of support on a systemwide basis. Many excellent models of mentor programs are in use in urban systems across the nation.

The Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) program in Columbus, Ohio is an example.

PAR is a systemwide program that uses superb teachers for three-year stints as mentors. The principal, the teacher and an objective review board work to improve the performance of new or underperforming teachers.

The goal of the program is to foster excellent teaching. Mentors return to the classroom after three years to avoid getting out of touch with classroom life.

Jodie Kavanaugh, Baltimore

The writer teaches at Hamilton Middle School.

Let's not throw out history in the name of urban progress

The Sun's editorial "Gems at risk?" (June 17) misconstrued the debate over revitalizing downtown Baltimore's west side and that area's recent inclusion on the National Trust for Historic Preservation's list of Americas 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.

The editorial said the West Side plan "isn't a case of an ill-conceived demolition plan. It is a thoughtful and carefully considered effort to breathe new life into a distressed downtown area with a mix of old and new."

If that were the case, we would be the plan's biggest supporters. Unfortunately, it's not.

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