In the world of education acronyms, there's MSPAP and then there's MSRAP and, if you're a new teacher, you might have trouble keeping track of the difference.
Nearly 400 of Baltimore's freshest recruits arrived this week for that and other lessons as part of an optional monthlong training camp designed to prepare them for the classroom - and what could be one of the most anxious times of their professional lives.
"I don't have the benefit of having an extensive background of education courses," said Eric Chancey, 24, a Morgan State University graduate who will teach special education at Calverton Middle School.
"I could see that I definitely could benefit from it. ... I hope to feel more comfortable - I'm going to feel more ready - to go into the classroom."
The four-week program, which officials say is the only one of its kind in the state, seems to have prepared teachers. Only a handful of the several hundred new teachers who attended last year decided not to return to teach, said Marsha Taylor, program coordinator.
"It's a program that I think every single teacher who enters the system should attend," said Angelique Gillespie, 30, a language arts teacher at Lombard Middle School who attended the inaugural program and is now a "junior mentor." "It works your confidence just to come here and get a head start."
All teachers attend a mandatory five-day orientation in August. But the four-week program, for which trainees are paid $125 a day, provides two important things: additional support to new teachers, many of whom are not certified and will be in the classroom for the first time, and a safe place to ask questions and make mistakes.
"This is low-risk," said Taylor. "It's a good time to practice a little bit."
In Classroom 163 at the Professional Development Center in Northeast Baltimore yesterday, the new middle-school language arts teachers made "name tents" on yellow paper to introduce themselves to their colleagues. Seven of last year's trainees helped out.
"I was really, really relieved when they told me it was going to be a five-week program," said Cicely Simpson, 23, about to begin her first year as a special education teacher at Fallstaff Middle School. "I was really anxious because I didn't really know what to expect."
During the voluntary training, attendees will hear from veteran teachers, curriculum specialists, department heads and state education officials - one of whom used a bingo game yesterday to help explain the meaning of 25 acronyms, including MSPAP (Maryland School Performance Assessment Program) and MSRAP (Middle School Reading Assessment Program). The trainees will be briefed on Maryland's education standards. They also will learn how to hold a parent-teacher conference and decorate a classroom.
Second-year teacher Andrea Petretti, a junior mentor, said the training was a selling point when deciding on a school system.
The 23-year-old Long Island native graduated with a teaching certificate from a college in upstate New York, but, in choosing to teach in Baltimore, she had to learn new state and city content standards and a new curriculum.
"This is like the kind of support you've been waiting for," she said. "They ... give you so much in this program, you can't wait to get in your classroom."
Joan Hammonds, a language arts curriculum specialist and 28-year system veteran, said the new teachers will come to see their colleagues as a kind of family.
"This is only their second day on the job, and they're very, very anxious," she said. "We want to put them at ease."