Baltimore County program aims for well-schooled rookie teachers

3-day orientation covers curricula, host of topics

August 14, 2002|By Jonathan D. Rockoff | Jonathan D. Rockoff,SUN STAFF

The overhead projector is back on, and the seats in the classroom are full again. An instructor stands in front of the blackboard once more lecturing. And her students furiously scribble notes, like students always do.

It was back to school at Perry Hall High School yesterday, but not for schoolchildren. This week's course of study is for the district's new teachers, an orientation in teaching Baltimore County-style before students return Aug. 26.

"Every day do real-world problems," Penny Booth, who oversees mathematics curriculum for the county's middle and high schools, told new math teachers. "Make your assignments meaningful."

For Baltimore County, which must integrate hundreds of new teachers annually, the orientation is central to successfully starting each school year.

More than 850 teachers attended the first day of the three-day session at Perry Hall High, where they will learn everything from what curricula they will teach to how to manage their classes.

"There's nothing more frightening as a teacher than starting your first day of school," said Arlene Fleischmann, whose professional-development office runs the orientation program, "so we hope to smooth that out a little bit."

The orientation is one of the most comprehensive in the state, Fleischmann said. Although other districts may bring in their new hires for a day or so, none offers the range of programming that Baltimore County does.

Things began on an encouraging note, with state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick welcoming the new teachers to a "wonderful profession" and a "very premier school system."

Baltimore County Superintendent Joe A. Hairston urged the teachers to bring a positive attitude to their classes, and Board of Education President Donald L. Arnold reminded everyone that teaching has never been so important.

Then the training began, with teachers migrating to classrooms to learn about their new work, from special education to guidance counseling to English, science and math.

Dennis James, who has taught in Boston and also in Baltimore, will be teaching at Woodlawn High School this year. He said the city never gave him the detailed instruction in United States and world history curricula that he got yesterday.

"Baltimore City is totally different," James said. "They don't do any of that."

This is the sixth year of the program, which besides training the teachers gives them the opportunity to meet with investment advisers, rental agents and universities offering graduate degrees.

The school system follows up the session during the school year by providing mentors and coaches for new teachers to further smooth their transition.

Jennifer Smith, who just graduated from Towson University and will teach first grade at Deep Creek Elementary in Essex, said she learned about completing a report card and keeping children in line.

"It's very informative," she said. "I feel like I'm prepared, but, of course, when anybody starts a new job, you're nervous." The orientation has helped calm those jitters, Smith said.

Joseph Gwin, who taught in Baltimore for 15 years, said it felt strange starting all over again, and he appreciated the walk-through in the objectives and requirements of the math classes he will be teaching at Milford Mill Academy.

Still, Gwin said, his success as a teacher will ultimately depend upon the school and its leadership.

"It's under the right principal ... [that] you get an opportunity to do the right things," he said.

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