It's a career-oriented summer

An eighth-grade teacher looks ahead and acts to advance in the school system


Summer vacations usually are busy for eighth-grade teacher Mary Mussaw. Last year, she finished her master's degree in education administration. This summer, she was principal of Wilde Lake Middle School's summer program.

Although her real summer vacation began Friday afternoon when summer school ended, the 25-year-old from Elkridge plans to return to school this week to move into her new classroom -- and hang out with the administrative staff.

Teachers don't have to return until Aug. 22 to prepare for the first day of school Aug. 28. But Mussaw does not feel like staying at home.

"It's hard to stay away," Mussaw said. "I love the people that I work with."

Mussaw sought the job of summer school principal to help gain experience and advance her career. Teachers normally do not relish the transition to an administrative role where they have less time with children and must spend more time on discipline. Mussaw, on the other hand, says she cannot wait to become a principal after four years of teaching. It is not that she doesn't like being a teacher. She believes she can make more of an impact as a principal.

"You can benefit an entire school as an administrator," Mussaw said.

The hardest part of her transition might be getting what she wants -- a job as an assistant principal. The middle school does not have any vacancies, so she would have to leave the school where she began her career in 2002. Howard County officials would have to interview and approve Mussaw before she could become eligible for the county's assistant principal pool. She hopes to become eligible by fall 2007.

Mussaw graduated with a bachelor's degree in education from Towson University in 2002. She taught sixth-grade English for three years at Wilde Lake Middle School and eighth-grade English during the past year. In that time, she earned a master's degree, which she completed in December. She ran a summer program for high school students at Cecil Community College for two years.

"I've never been one to have a summer vacation," Mussaw said.

Summer school is about helping struggling pupils retain their skills over the summer, Mussaw said. Pupils are encouraged, but not forced, to attend. "It's really our kids getting practice," she said. Sixty of the 500 middle school pupils attended summer school. They study reading and math from 8:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. each day.

Mussaw planned the curriculum, selected teachers for each class, arranged for materials and decided which rooms would be used. For the most part, pupils have been well-behaved, she said.

Being an administrator has its perks. Office staff members do not have to take home piles of papers to grade or work on lesson plans for the next day, said Tiffany Carmean, a former teacher who is a teacher-administrator. Carmean works on educational plans for special-education students and is a liaison to parents. The most difficult part of the transition can be maintaining relationships with students, she said.

"As an administrator, you really have to make a concerted effort to build those relationships," Carmean said. "It doesn't come as naturally as it does in the classroom."

That should not be a problem for Mussaw, Carmean said. Mussaw is known for her rapport with pupils. With two silver rings along her upper left ear and a young-looking appearance, parents have mistaken her for a student when she wears her Wilde Lake Middle School T-shirt.

Theresa Barnes, 14, decided to forgo her summer vacation so that she could be Mussaw's assistant. Theresa makes copies, passes around snacks and answers phones. She said she would be bored at home otherwise, and she earns service credits that count toward graduation.

But Mussaw was the main reason she wanted to work in the office over the summer. Theresa is going into ninth grade at Wilde Lake High School, and she said she would miss her confidante.

"She gives you advice," Theresa said. "I'd rather go to her than go to a counselor."

Davon Allen, 13, of Columbia agreed that Mussaw is the type of teacher you can tell your problems to, although that is not why Davon seeks her out.

"I go to her classroom sometimes just to talk or hang out," he said.

Mussaw is nice, but she does not tolerate bad behavior, Davon said. If a pupil ignores her, she takes the pupil aside and has a talk, he said.

That is why pupils, such as Jalen Jeffries, 12, respect Mussaw. Other administrators seem too strict, he said. "She isn't like one of those teachers that if you mess up she screams at you," Jeffries said. "She gives you a lot of warnings."

Mussaw has started to think about the kinds of policies she might implement as a principal. Integrating technology into school programs is something she wants to explore. She enjoys watching pupils learn to do newscasts in the media center or experiment on the computer.

"You really can see the kids open up and find a new outlet of what they want to do," she said.

Mussaw believes she has opened up this summer. The biggest lesson she learned as principal was proving to herself that she could handle the job.

"I just learned a lot about myself," Mussaw said. "I'm just really excited doing it on my own."

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