Earlier this year, Laura Jenkins was a student herself at Villa Julie College in Stevenson, from which she graduated in the spring. Now, in less than two weeks, she will lead her own classroom of students as one of Howard County's new public school system teachers.
"I'm really excited to have my own classroom," said Jenkins, 22, who will teach English to sixth-grade students at Wilde Lake Middle School in Columbia. "I want to teach English because I love it so much, and I hope to inspire others."
Jenkins is one of hundreds of recently hired teachers who attended the county school system's new-teacher orientation from Monday through yesterday at Wilde Lake High School. Classes resume for students on Aug. 27.
Mamie J. Perkins, the school system's chief of staff, said that as of early this week, the county had hired approximately 490 of the 516 new teachers it expects to employ.
Each day, the participants attended curriculum and information sessions designed to familiarize them with the support services offered to teachers and the curriculum for the grade and subject they are teaching.
On Monday morning, the school Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin, wearing an apron with a purple ribbon that he won in a cooking competition at the Howard County Fair, and other members of the school system served breakfast in the cafeteria to the teachers.
Later in the morning, the teachers reported to classrooms for their first curriculum session. After lunch, they visited the schools where they will teach to meet with administrators and team leaders to review school policies.
Jenkins said she had received some information about the curriculum, "but I'll have a better understanding of how the curriculum is laid out [after this week] and there'll be people giving me guidance" during the orientation.
"I think it's challenging being a first-year teacher because you're left on your own, but I feel like I have the support of the administration and other teachers in Howard County," Jenkins said.
Ernesto Diaz, manager of teacher recruitment and retention, said "we had a very good recruiting year. We had a lot of demand for our positions, so we're very fortunate this year."
Diaz said that 429 new teachers were hired last school year. There are more new teachers this year because of the addition of new schools and technology positions at the elementary level, according to Diaz. Veterans Elementary School in Ellicott City will be opening for the first time and Bushy Park Elementary School in Glenwood will be housed in a new building.
Perkins said that 100 of this year's new teachers are from Maryland and 28 graduated from the county school system. Perkins also noted that 53 have at least one parent who was a teacher. The new teachers represent 28 states and three foreign countries.
Samuel Bradford, 34, was raised in Howard County and taught in Baltimore County for six years and in Carroll County last year. This year, he will teach special education and English to eighth-graders at Glenwood Middle School.
"I grew up here so I'm excited to come back home. This system celebrates diversity more than Carroll County did," said Bradford, who lives in Hanover, Pa., but will rent a room in Columbia during the school year.
Bradford said that the Glenwood community is more affluent than where he taught before, so one of his challenges as a new teacher may be getting used to a different culture.
Brian Long, 49, an Owings Mill resident who taught in Baltimore City for six years, said he came to Howard County because of what it offers to teachers.
"This is one of the top systems in Maryland, so opportunities for teachers and students are better here," he said. "Expectations are much higher in Howard County and I think I'm going to find more parent involvement and greater technology."
Long, who will teach sixth- and seventh-grade math in Wilde Lake, also said he will make about $6,000 more than he did in Baltimore City, which was a factor in his decision to teach in the county.
Julie Kieta, 44, of Elkridge, is returning to teach after taking a break for 15 years to raise her children. She taught in Texas and overseas in the Department of Defense Dependents Schools in Germany.
Kieta, who will teach special education in Clarksville Middle School, said she decided to teach here because her children go to school in the county. She said the "quality of education and quality of teaching is much higher" in the county compared to where she taught before.
The orientation's keynote speaker, Brenda Campbell Jones, a professor and international consultant at Campbell Jones and Associates, talked about the impact that a few caring teachers had on her life, and the importance of making sure that every child has a chance to succeed.
"Let your students see the glory that is in you manifest, and show your students how to manifest the glory that is within them," she told the audience of teachers in the school auditorium.