Lindsey Pritchett is a product of Harford County, having attended local elementary, middle and high schools, as well as college. Now she is starting her teaching career in her home county.
"It's a big area, but a small community; I love it, I do," Pritchett, 25, said Wednesday as she set up her second grade classroom at William Paca/Old Post Road Elementary School in Abingdon.
Pritchett is one of 13 first-year teachers at William Paca/Old Post Road; she and her fellow teachers, new and veteran, are spending this week getting their classrooms and lesson plans ready before a new school year.
The estimated 38,000 students in Harford schools begin Monday, with the first bells at 7:30 a.m.
Harford County Public Schools officials had hired 291 new teachers as of Thursday, and they are working to fill 10-and-a-half teaching positions, Jillian Lader, manager of communications for HCPS, said in an email.
"Substitute teachers and classroom coverage will be utilized as needed while we continue to work to fill vacancies and hire quality teachers," she explained.
Looking forward to 'everything'
Pritchett grew up in Forest Hill and attended Hickory Elementary, Southampton Middle and C. Milton Wright High in Bel Air. She graduated from C. Milton Wright in 2007.
She obtained her bachelor's degree in elementary and special education from Towson University, and she did her course work at the HEAT Center in Aberdeen, which is now called the University Center, earning her degree this spring.
"Everything," Pritchett said, when asked what she was most looking forward about teaching. "Being part of the William Paca/Old Post Road family, meeting my kids, getting to know them, getting them ready to learn."
She called teaching second grade "the dream job," having completed her student teaching with second-graders at Bel Air Elementary School and Bakerfield Elementary School in Aberdeen.
Pritchett said she enjoys watching second-graders come into school on the first day and grow during the year "not just academically but personally, seeing them maybe come in the shy student and then come out with that smile."
She also praised the veteran teachers who will serve as mentors during the school year.
She noted that, unlike her experience student teaching when a full-time teacher was in the classroom with her, it will be just her and her 19 second-graders starting Monday.
"We're all learning together," she said.
Pritchett said the major lesson she has learned from teachers and mentors, starting with her kindergarten teacher, is to "basically let the kids know from Day One that you care."
She said a teacher must take charge of his or her classroom, but also make the students feel comfortable coming to them for any reason.
"I think building relationships with your kids is probably the number 1 thing I would take away from my mentors," Pritchett explained.
She also summed up the environment at William Paca/Old Post Road with one word: "supportive."
"They're helping me get materials," she said of the experienced teachers. "They're helping me adapt and not just myself, but the other first-year teachers."
Pritchett has even received help setting up her classroom from her mother, Cheryl, who is the cafeteria lead at Hickory Elementary.
"It's been fun helping her," Cheryl Pritchett said. "It's starting to look like a classroom."
'This light, this shine'
Janelle Johnson, a special educator, is also new to William Paca/Old Post Road and Harford County Public Schools, but she is starting her sixth year as a teacher.
Johnson, 33, previously taught at the Maryland School for the Deaf campus in Columbia and at The Forbush School at Hunt Valley, as part of the Sheppard Pratt Health System.
Her father was in the Army and was stationed at Aberdeen Proving Ground during her high school years.
Johnson was born in Germany, grew up in Charles County and lives in Towson. She obtained her bachelor's degree is psychology from Towson in 2006 and her master's in special education from Grand Canyon University online in 2013.
She was working as a manager of an AT&T store while taking classes at Towson, and while she made a good living, she was not satisfied.
"I just was not happy," she recalled. "I was just feeling like I was missing something."
She began her path to an educational career volunteering at the Maryland School for the Deaf; no one in her family is deaf or hearing impaired, but she gained an interest in sign language, starting with watching an interpreter at a graduation ceremony, and she studied it in college.
"When they get it, there is this light, this shine, that comes into their eyes," she said of teaching special needs children.
Johnson said she will be working with special needs students in second grade; her duties include supporting their classroom teachers by providing "push-in" services, or providing "pull-out" services by bringing the students to a separate classroom if they need more support.
She stressed the emphasis is on push-in services so the students can remain with their peers.
"I just love this area," she said when asked why she chose Harford County Public Schools.
"I really like working with challenging populations," she added. "I like working with great schools."
Johnson also praised the administrators, her fellow instructors and the collaborative environment at the school.
"I want to be around people that are passionate, that are excited, that are upbeat," she said.
'Get off to a great start'
Alberta Porter, an instructional facilitator, works with school administrators to ensure the instructional program at William Paca/Old Post Road "is aligned with state and system goals" and serves the school's nearly 800 students.
She also works with all of the teachers, which includes supporting the first-year teachers.
"I especially want to make sure the first-year teachers get off to a great start instructionally," Porter said.
She highlighted two major lessons the new teachers have learned so far, building relationships with their students and high-quality instruction.
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"I just want then to feel comfortable with their planning and that they see the administrators as companions to them, that they see us as approachable and helping them to plan," she said.