Howard schools new teachers

388 educators learn the ropes during weeklong orientation


A beige apron detracted from his usual dapper central office attire of sharp suit and freshly shined shoes. And important documents were replaced by serving utensils and bottled beverages as school Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin stood on the other side of the cafeteria line, dishing up lunch and offering strong servings of advice for the system's 388 new teachers.

The special meal was part of a weeklong orientation at Wilde Lake High School that is wrapping up today.

"It's kind of hokey in a way," Cousin said about the lunch, as he picked out an orange-flavored sports drink and handed it to a new teacher.

"But it is a way to show our new teachers that we are here to serve them. That's the message I try to deliver in a variety of ways," Cousin said.

Each day, fortified by breakfast and lunch, the new employees attended a series of sessions, listened to speakers, and received documents that prepared them to teach in the highly-ranked school system.

Last year, 513 new teachers joined the Howard County school system. Officials project 515 new teachers by the end of this year.

"This is the way we welcome new family members," said Mamie J. Perkins, chief of staff for the system, as she served up green beans. "We celebrate them."

Jenny Werking, a recent graduate of Towson University, acknowledged that she was nervous and excited to start her first few weeks of school.

"Getting to meet the kids and earn their respect will be tough," said the 23-year-old. "Once that is established, it's all excitement."

Werking, who said she chose to teach in Howard County after a favorable student teaching experience at Mount Hebron High School, said the orientation helped her relax and prepare.

"As a new teacher, I would not know where to begin," she said. "This has been an extremely beneficial resource."

Debra O'Byrne, an assistant principal at Mount View Middle School in Marriottsville, led an hourlong presentation that explained the "New Teacher Orientation Binder," a collection of policies, resources, and other helpful tools that teachers are expected to learn.

"First impressions are lasting," said O'Byrne, who has been in the system for 14 years. "This is going to help retain teachers. This is a demonstration how Howard County is dedicated to students."

Teachers spent Monday afternoon visiting their home schools and meeting with their administrators and teacher leaders.

Each day, the new teachers broke into workshops led by assistant principals, veteran teachers and central office administrators covering such topics as working with a co-teaching model and teaching multicultural students.

The meetings give teachers an idea of what to expect during the first few weeks of school, said Ernesto Diaz, manager of teacher recruitment and retention.

"We want them to feel comfortable so they can go on with the rest of the week," Diaz said.

The orientation also featured several vendors and organizations that helped teachers plan for retirement and join groups such as the Howard County Education Association, the union representing 5,500 teachers and support personnel.

Cousin said the Howard County orientation, which has been offered since 1985, is much different than the 1967 welcome he received when he started working as a teacher at Lombard Junior High School in Baltimore.

"There were 55 students and 50 desks," Cousin explained. "I was really just put in a classroom. It was whoever could survive that first year."

The new teachers come from 12 states; although a majority of them are from Maryland, Diaz said. And 53 of the new teachers are graduates of Howard County schools.

The system is trying to fill nearly 200 positions such as special education, math, science and reading. In addition to trying to address the shortage of teachers in certain subjects, the system also is struggling to find Latino and African-American male teachers, according to Diaz.

"It's quite difficult," said Diaz, who added that Howard recruiters have visited Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania and North Carolina in the past year to address the void. "We want to hire staff members that reflect the student body."

Walter Zimoh, who will teach math at Howard High School, said he was attracted to the county because of the people.

"It's the friendly nature," said Zimoh, 32, who taught in his native Cameroon for nine years. "Howard County has a progressive system of education."

Susan Foreman, 32, who previously worked in Baltimore County and got a job as a special-education teacher at Elkridge Elementary, said she was drawn to Howard County because of the system's reputation and salary.

"It's always up on trends, research, resources," said Foreman, who spent eight years in Baltimore County. "[Howard County] is really well-organized. They are a motivating and inspired group. They really promote a community of professionals."

Linda Shin, 41, will teach French and Spanish at Wilde Lake High School after working in Montgomery County for the past four years.

"I'm very pleased to be working here," Shin said. "It seems to live up to the hype. I wish I had worked here sooner."

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