Harford teachers get ready for new school year

The upcoming school year isn't just new for the incoming students in the Harford County public school system, but for many teachers as well.

The school system hired 175 new teachers for various schools throughout the county, school system Manager of Communications Teri Kranefeld wrote in an e-mail last week. As parents and students stock up on supplies and mentally prepare for a new year, so do these teachers.

Edgewood Middle School is welcoming several new teachers this year, including those new to the school or new to teaching in general.

The 2011-12 school year is completely new to Kimberly Houck, as is Harford County Public Schools. Houck graduated with a master's degree from Goucher College in May and is starting this year as a seventh-grade language arts teacher at Edgewood Middle School.

"This is my first very own classroom," she said with a grin.

Houck, who has been in Edgewood for eight years, sat on one of the students' desks at the front of the triangle shaped classroom before briefly joining department chairman Joel Tracy to help set up her own desk and armoire.

Teaching in a middle school isn't what she originally "aspired" to do, Houck said, but that all changed in a group interview with Board of Education President Leonard Wheeler and several other school officials.

"I really got this very home feeling," Houck said, later adding that it was a hard-to-describe feeling but definitely "palpable."

Although grade level may have been undecided, teaching never was for Houck and neither was the subject. Being able to teach students is one thing, she said, but "it's another to feel like you want to come to work."

"Every day that I come in, I still want to love coming in to Edgewood Middle," she said.

Teaching language arts was a given for the book lover, who said she had been preparing for the school year since she was still in class herself. When the local Borders closed, she purchased a spinning book rack and for weeks has been picking up a variety of books for her classroom.

Her biggest pet peeve, she said, is an English room without books. Houck is stocking hers with all different types, she added, mentioning Spiderman and manga genres.

"I will have things that they want to read," she said.

Even though it is her first year, Houck said she is "not nervous," rather excited to be starting at Edgewood Middle and happy to have a job, especially within a school system she praised frequently.

"They're all so nice," she said. "You can't beat that."

Upstairs, in the largest classroom of the school, Edward Svec sat on the red and black bleachers of Edgewood Middle School's gymnasium. Svec has been a long-term substitute before, he said Tuesday, but this is his first full-time position.

"I feel a little overwhelmed with the new teacher stuff," he said, referencing the training and a recent four-day conference where he "learned a lot."

Overall, however, Svec said he is excited to start with the students "fresh" and to "build routines" from the first day of school.

A Harford County native, Svec graduated in January from Towson University with a bachelor's degree before filling in as a substitute teacher at Patterson Mill for a day and then a long-term position finishing out the year at Edgewood Middle School.

He always knew he wanted to teach, Svec said, but started off focusing on history before switching to a major in physical education.

"That was what I was passionate about," he said, later adding "I wanted to teach something I believe in."

Physical education is integral to other subjects, he pointed out, saying research shows that students who are more physically active perform better in other areas.

"The best thing they need is to be active in a fun way," Svec said.

Although his preparation may not be as involved as that of the other teachers, with no classroom to set up, Svec said he would hang posters around the gymnasium and start setting up units. As part of the curriculum, he added, Svec would not teach specific sports but in five units: throwing and catching, striking, fitness, group initiatives and integrated movements.

His favorite unit, he added, is teaching throwing and catching through softball.

"We don't do baseball and my background really is baseball," he said.

Another teacher joining the Edgewood Middle School Rams is Sheila George, who is not new to Harford County, but new to the school.

For the past four years, George said she taught English at Havre de Grace High School before transferring to Edgewood as an eighth-grade language arts teacher. Switching to middle school was the "right choice" for her, George said, and will allow her to work with students in a team environment.

"You can really work with them the whole day," she said, "and the whole experience in a way you can't do in high school."

George has taught classes from infant level to adult education, she said, but is excited to work in a school and field that offers "extra support."

Plus, she said, middle school students have a great "energy" that is "really positive" for her as a teacher and gets her energized as well. The environment at Edgewood Middle School, George added, is "really good" and the focus of the school is "clear and is purposeful" in terms of helping students.

"I just have a very good feeling about it," she said.

With the school year coming up, in addition to setting up her classroom, George said she has been doing a lot of "self study" and touching base with former colleagues to help prepare. One of the ways she will connect with students, she said, is to try and understand them and help them to understand her.

To reach students, George said, teachers need to find things that are "relevant" to them and to always be honest and genuine.

Teaching language arts, like physical education is for her colleague Svec, is all about following her passion, George said.

"I've always been a voracious reader," she said. "The reading and writing has always been my passion."

Coming in as a new teacher, even with past experience, George said, does have some degree of nervousness. But with any mistakes she may make, George said she hopes they will be a modeling experience for students to see that it is OK to make mistakes and there are ways to deal with them.

"I am prepared for the mistakes I will make," she said, later adding that teaching students how to cope with mistakes can be a "good thing."

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