New teachers prep for challenges ahead

The Baltimore Sun

The roar of voices in the cafeteria at Winters Mill High School could have rivaled the typical school day's lunchtime din.

But the myriad voices belonged to adults, new teachers mixing and mingling before mulling over the challenges of the coming school year, which starts tomorrow. Carroll County's fresh crop of hires went through a week of "school," as they learned the ropes and prepared classrooms -- and themselves -- for students.

"This is a week of preparation and planning to be an effective teacher who will truly make a difference," said Lorraine Fulton, assistant superintendent of instruction, as she welcomed the group at Winters Mill on Monday.

Fulton went on to emphasize that the school system, which serves more than 28,000 students, was there to support them in the "enormous responsibility" they had taken on.

As of Thursday, 190 part- and full-time teachers had been hired, said Jimmie Saylor, the district's director of human resources.

For Saylor and fellow staff members, the past week was a flurry of activity, she said, as about 20 instructors were hired to respond to elementary-school enrollment issues, or fill spots recently vacated because of resignations or leaves of absence.

For the nearly 200 new employees, the past days have been consumed with details of the job ahead, with sessions on curriculum, assessments and getting organized. Split into groups based on content area -- such as career and technology, fine arts or science -- they learned skills intended to help them in their specific fields.

Math teachers took a scavenger hunt through the voluntary state curriculum, discovering timelines for when students must master certain skills. Special-education instructors learned the importance of data to support their estimation of a student's progress. And elementary educators were advised not to improvise when they don't know the answer to a child's question.

"Tell them, 'That's a great question,' and say you'll get back to them," said Emily Billmyre, a third-grade teacher at Piney Ridge Elementary, who was part of a panel offering advice and fielding questions from the incoming group.

"Planning a lesson will be the one thing you have control over -- and then once you start, that's it," Billmyre said, sparking laughter from the group. "You really have to be on your toes, and the more you teach, the more you'll get used to it."

And with lessons that aren't necessarily a personal favorite, "trick your kids into thinking you do" like them, said Laura Broome, a Piney Ridge fifth-grade teacher. "Your attitude is also contagious."

Devin LaFata, a new Sandymount kindergarten teacher, was one of several people to ask about practical aspects of the job.

"First day of school ... How did you go about planning it?" LaFata said. "That's the biggest fear for me."

Billmyre recommended asking fellow team instructors for tips. Broome suggested a game to help kids get to know her, such as a true-false questionnaire with facts about herself.

LaFata and other kindergarten teachers also attended a session geared toward them, meeting in a set-up classroom at Westminster Elementary, where they caught a glimpse of the resources they could expect in their own rooms. Gina Hicks, a kindergarten resource teacher, and Diane Groft, a Spring Garden teacher, led the training.

"Hickety Pickety Bumble Bee, who can say their name for me?" Hicks and Groft sang at one point, as they demonstrated an activity the newcomers could use with their students. Hicks had pulled a small bumblebee puppet on her fingers, and let it "land" on Groft's shoulder.

Using Groft's first name, they clapped, stomped and whispered the syllables to "Diane," an exercise that could help students get to know administrators and practice counting syllables.

"It's all good teaching moments as you go," Hicks said.

First-time kindergarten teacher Jillian Sober already spent two weeks getting her classroom at Friendship Valley ready -- and had the proud distinction of being the only one among her peers on Monday who had gotten that far. With that behind her, Sober said, she felt organized and better prepared for what lies ahead.

"I'm so excited," Sober said. "This is all stuff we're going to use throughout the year. ... It's helpful to know that we have support here."

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