Visitors get a lesson in rigors of teaching

Learning: North Carroll invites community members to see school life from the inside.

December 04, 2003|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

At 7:30 on a typical weekday morning, Kathleen Brennan is sipping tea in the kitchen of her Towson home, letting out her dog and otherwise getting ready for work.

Her morning routine does not include jostling for space in a crowded hallway as rock music blares from overhead speakers and flocks of teen-agers make their way to class. But that's where she found herself one morning this week. Minutes later she was in a high school classroom for the first time in 17 years as English teacher Steve Hollands began his lesson on Odysseus and the Greek warrior's travels through the Underworld.

Brennan and nearly 30 others - including police officers, politicians, lawyers, business people and pastors - are abandoning their regular jobs this week to spend a full day alongside a teacher at North Carroll High School. Administrators at the Hampstead school have been inviting the community to shadow their instructors for six years, hoping to dispel myths about teachers and give people a better sense of the job.

It appears to be working.

"I don't think many people realize that teachers get 26 minutes for lunch and during that time if they have to call the bank, take care of any personal business, go to the lavatory, wait in line to buy lunch, that's it," said Brennan, who works as project manager for an educational nonprofit group called Junior Achievement of Central Maryland.

"Teachers can't tell their kids they're going to start a little late. If they're not in their room," she added, her voice trailing off, "You ever hear of anarchy?"

During Brennan's visit to the school Tuesday, a horse-loving pastor helped teach an equine studies class, a newspaper editor took a practice SAT test and a state trooper promised students that there is a purpose for high school math after the algebra tests are over.

"I told them that in crash reconstructions, which is one of my specialties, we use a lot of math formulas," Trooper Mark Rauser recalled at the end of his day with math instructor Mary Ruhlman. "They could see that math is used for more than just school stuff, that it's used out in a career."

Principal Gary Dunkleberger emphasized that administrators and educators don't try to showcase anything but an average school day when they invite business professionals and community members to the 1,600-student school.

"We don't have anything special planned," he said. "It's just a regular day at North Carroll. Sometimes we have good ones and sometimes we have bad ones."

From the morning's first bell at 7:30 a.m. to dismissal at 2:35 p.m., the shadows followed their teachers through whatever tasks the instructors tackled.

When teachers took up their posts in bustling hallways in the morning, their shadows joined them. When a special-education instructor met with counselors, teachers and other school staff to discuss with a parent her child's education plan, that instructor's shadow sat nearby. And when teachers lined up in the cafeteria to choose among BBQ sandwiches and nuggets with tater tots for lunch, the teachers' shadows lined up alongside them.

"I was surprised that I like the same thing I liked when I was in high school," said Brennan, grinning over her orange plastic tray of chicken soup, a tuna sandwich, potato chips and a carton of low-fat chocolate milk. "It's funny because you'd think that after all that time your tastes would have changed."

During more than four hours in Hollands' classroom, Brennan read about the Sirens who attempted to lure Odysseus and his ship to their rocky island. She memorized and recited a ditto of facts about Queen Victoria and the philosophers, poets and customs from the era named for her. And she chuckled at the corny jokes dryly delivered by Hollands, a 32-year teaching veteran who uses self-deprecating humor to interest students in subjects that might ordinarily bore them.

In Hollands' lessons Tuesday, Jonas Salk was "this dude who came up with the polio vaccine." Talk about a Norse god named Balder led the balding teacher to joke that he didn't even want to say the warrior's name because "it reminds me of something bad that happens." And in discussing the petticoats and corsets worn by women of the Victorian era, Hollands speculated about the origin of a certain lingerie store's name.

"In public, there was no calf showing. There was no arm showing," he said of Victorian ladies. "But what's going on underneath and behind closed doors, that was Victoria's Secret."

Students in Hollands' classes said that inviting community members into the school was a good idea and that their instructor was a fine example of how difficult teaching can be when it's done well.

"Having one person in charge of 30 kids - 30 high school students - is a challenge in itself," Brandon Moffitt, a 17-year-old senior, said. "But he also has to have new lesson plans every day and he has to have a wealth of knowledge to teach us. Since people don't see it every day, they think it's easier than it is."

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