Starting early to find teachers

Budding education program brings classes on teaching to students in high schools

June 23, 2007|By Arin Gencer | Arin Gencer,Sun Reporter

Every year, Maryland schools face a persistent challenge: finding teachers to educate the thousands of children coming through their doors.

Even with recruits from other states, career-changers and retired educators returning to fill vacancies, many systems are looking to themselves - and their students - for a solution. They have adopted the budding Teacher Academy of Maryland, a career and technology education program that introduces classes about teaching into high schools.

"We've taken care of every career in the universe except our own," said Marjorie Lohnes, supervisor of career and technology education for Carroll County, where students can take classes for future jobs in health, engineering and fashion, among other fields.

"One of these days, we're going to go home and retire," she said. " ... We need other people filling these spots."

Designed with partners from state universities, community colleges, the Maryland Higher Education Commission and the State Department of Education, the program consists of a track ideally beginning sophomore year: "Child and Adolescent Development," "Teaching as a Profession," "Foundations of Curriculum and Instruction" and an internship.

"This is an opportunity for students to see that a lot of good happens in the classroom," said Jeanne-Marie Holly, the state's program manager for the career and technology education systems branch. "It's a good time for students to make some choices that wouldn't be made until they were well into a college-level program."

About half of the 24 state school systems have adopted the academy, Holly said, including Baltimore City and Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties. While the city was developing a program before the statewide model existed, several other systems started their academies this year, piloting them in a few high schools. As of the 2006-2007 school year, Holly said, more than 1,000 students are involved.

Towson University professors wrote the curriculum, which high school teachers adapt for their students, said Pamela Williams Morgan, Towson's project co-coordinator for the academy. The recommended textbooks are college-level. Ideally, once articulation agreements are ironed out, Morgan said, students who successfully complete the requirements could earn early credits toward an education degree.

"It's an experiment," Morgan said. "If we can keep kids focused on a goal, then chances are they will be more successful and more apt to move toward that goal."

And they will meet a dire need.

For years, Maryland has lacked qualified teachers, according to a state staffing report released last fall. That report listed "critical shortage areas" for the current school year and beyond, including math, science and special education areas, health occupations and technology education.

It also identified every school system as a geographic area predicted to suffer a shortage.

State college or university programs have never produced enough new teachers, the report noted, although their graduates have included abundant elementary education candidates.

The academy aims to draw more students who wish to teach middle or high school, said Judy Geiman, a family and consumer science teacher at Westminster High, which started the academy this year, along with two other Carroll schools.

"The piece was missing for our secondary [education] students," said Geiman, referring to the lack of opportunities for those interested in teaching upper grades compared with their counterparts in early childhood programs.

That piece appealed to Rachel Morris, newly graduated from Westminster High, who plans to study at Towson University to become a high school history teacher. After working with younger children in church and preschool, Morris said, she preferred interacting with older students.

"I didn't want to be their second mom. ... I wanted to teach more independent students," Morris said. "I like high school. I've had fun in high school."

If it hadn't been for the academy classes, Morris said, she probably would have spent her final semester taking college courses full time.

Beyond fortifying their ranks with students like Morris, educators say the academy exposes them to teaching from "the other side of the desk." Students have watched teachers for more than a decade, but that doesn't mean they fully understand what their jobs entail, said Susan Garrett, supervisor of career programs and art for Harford County, where the program was piloted at two schools.

"They really don't see all the behind-the-scenes preparation," Garrett said.

Geiman's students have had the chance to go backstage in her classes.

"There's definitely stuff we've learned in here that I didn't even think about," said Gavin McGuire, who took "Teaching as a Profession" as a senior this spring.

McGuire said his career goal is to return to Westminster High and coach varsity football. But first, he knows he must take several tests to even enter the profession.

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