A school teacher closes the circle

Retired principal watches teachers she trained graduate

August 26, 2007|By Dorothy E. Hardin | Dorothy E. Hardin,Special to The Sun

On May 24, 2007, I sat on the stage at Towson University Center, wearing my commencement garb and my 1967 Towson State College ring and watching my nine interns from the Master of Arts in Teaching program clutch their diplomas proudly.

I had come full circle.

I am from the generation that was taught to change the world, to avoid being drafted into the Vietnam War. I made it to the era of No Child Left Behind. When I received my degree in The Glen, a wonderful wooded area on Towson's campus, Earle T. Hawkins was the school's president. Now his name is on the university's Hawkins Hall.

In 39 years with the Baltimore County public schools, I taught English in grades seven through 12, became an English department chair and evolved into an administrator. Last year, on July 1, I retired as principal of Pikesville High School, loving the public school education experience and wanting to prepare the next generation of teachers at the university level.

So I went right on teaching, returning to the institution that had trained me, becoming a full-time lecturer in the Towson University MAT program as well as a Professional Development Schools Coordinator in the Howard County public schools. In these roles I have had the opportunity to attain my dreams of preparing educators, gaining a better understanding of the making of a teacher.

To my interns last year - who were born a decade or more after I started teaching - I used to say, "I'm retired but not retiring." At times I probably scared them with war stories, surreal vignettes starring at-risk kids and my passion for teaching. It is important that they understand the way school culture works and how you can survive it. I figured out early that one of the most helpful strategies in teaching is having a sense of humor.

One day, when I was about my interns' age, teaching eighth-graders at the former Hereford Junior-Senior High School, I was chewed out by the head librarian for wearing unprofessional dress - I had been sporting school colors, featuring a white Irish linen blouse and a maroon miniskirt. A popular senior athlete rescued me. "Leave Mrs. Hardin alone," he yelled. "We need good teachers." My eighth-graders reassessed me and began paying more attention to our mystery literature unit, "Not For The Timid."

Last summer, when they began their master's program, many of my students wondered if their decision about teaching was right or just another stop on their way to figuring out what to do with their lives. They wondered if they could do the job well and enjoy it fully. Most were in the fast track, a one-year MAT in secondary education. Meeting all of the Maryland State Department of Education certification requirements, the program provides several courses embedding significant education topics, such as methods, special education and technology integration; pre-service teaching internships in middle and high schools; and mentoring support from master teachers and a university supervisor.

By this May, I knew they had the right stuff. They had learned that the world of tweeners, adolescents and teachers is scary, powerful, complex and rewarding. It's a tough job, but it is incredibly exciting work.

It was fascinating to watch the interns learn how to talk with young people who were alien in appearance and background, culturally diverse students covered in multiple piercings and flamboyant tats. At first, they were tentative, unsure how to chitchat. Then they connected through music, sports, fashion, films and the world of technology. The interns talked about their travels, families, and experiences in previous jobs, letting students into their lives and sharing their feelings.

Except for the computer banter, my own cautious conversations with the students of 40 years ago began the same way, with advice from a mentor who gave suggestions and modeled how I might find a pathway into kid culture. That's one of the best parts about teaching: the supportive interaction among colleagues and ultimately from one's students who, in the end, care more about us than we would have ever imagined. That's why my passion for teaching and learning remains an intense and integral part of my persona. Why wouldn't everyone want a piece of the classroom action? It is the place to be.

If the principles of teacher education haven't changed over 40 years, the language has. To obtain increased credibility, colleges of education have adopted the vocabulary of medicine. We have interns. They go on rounds in what are known as professional development schools, real schools with a laboratory context similar to that found in teaching hospitals. They work with mentors, who are exemplary teachers, and operate in the classroom theater.

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