Orienting teachers

Those new to the classroom get an idea of what to expect during the school year.

August 17, 2005|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

From the clusters of people taking notes to the cafeteria green beans, it is looking a lot like back-to-school time at Wilde Lake High School.

But the lessons this week are aimed at more than 400 new teachers who are attending a four-day orientation by the school system.

The teachers, who will have seminars and meetings through tomorrow, come from 32 states and a variety of backgrounds, said Kirk Thompson, the school system's director of human resources. A few are from foreign countries, including Cameroon, Canada and India.

The group - a little larger than in the past two years - includes recent college graduates preparing to lead their first classrooms and experienced teachers drawn from other school systems. A few of the new hires are embarking on a second or third career.

Forty-six - more than ever before - graduated from Howard County schools, Thompson said.

On Monday morning, they all seemed ready to leave summer activities behind and welcome a new school year.

"I'm always excited when school starts," said Derrick Robinson, 33, of North Laurel.

Robinson, who taught in Prince George's County before accepting a position teaching business and social studies at Centennial High School, said he entered the profession 11 years ago because he had great teachers.

"They were my role models," he said. "They had power and influence. I wanted to be just like them."

The orientation began at 8 a.m. Monday with breakfast, followed by a motivational speech by Neal Petersen, the first black man to race solo around the world in a sailboat.

Petersen talked about growing up under apartheid in South Africa and overcoming a childhood disability to build a boat and realize his yacht-racing dreams. He praised his teachers and told the group: "You can influence the next generation of adventurers."

The teachers were treated to a cafeteria lunch served by administrators and school board members. Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin donned an apron and dished out fried chicken and green beans.

The rest of the orientation involves sessions on multiculturalism, curriculum guidelines, how to use the school computer system, health benefits and other topics.

The orientation was a confidence-booster for the newest teachers.

Alyssa O'Donnell, 26, of Baltimore said she was feeling nervous last week while she prepared her classroom and lesson plans.

"It is overwhelming," said O'Donnell, who left a career in public relations in New York to earn a master's degree at the University of Maryland last year. She will teach second grade at Hammond Elementary School.

"It is a lot more work than you think," she said. "You have to love it."

The children "make the job more fun," she added. "You never know what the kids are going to say."

Ellie Gianni, 43, who spent 22 years as an engineer and ran a consulting business, also is changing careers. The Columbia resident will teach technology to sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders at Wilde Lake Middle School.

She said young people to whom she spoke, including her 10-year-old and 14-year-old children, were disappointed in their technology classes.

"It is such an exciting area," said Gianni, who is planning activities involving woodworking, mechanical devices and rockets. "Students should be excited about technology. Maybe I can make a difference."

Paul Sabota, 34, of Crofton has taught at two other schools, most recently in Crofton, and said he is excited to join the staff in Howard because of the county's reputation for excellence and higher salaries.

"I'm excited to get back" from summer break, he said. "Everything is going to be good."

He added, "If you don't have that outlook, you are done for."

Sabota, who will teach science at Mount Hebron High School, said the advice he was given when he started teaching eight years ago is still valid.

"You have to plan, plan and plan your lesson plans," he said. "And develop thick skin. Take nothing personally."

Amid the nervous butterflies and preparations, Thompson offered some additional words of encouragement.

"You have chosen a profession that provides you with an opportunity to touch the lives of children," he said. "There will be days when you will wonder if you are making a difference. You won't give up on yourself and you won't give up on your students."

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