Getting a taste of teaching

Kevin Raska stomped and shook his way through a South African dance with a group of second-graders, then did a Brazilian samba.

While the children at Linthicum Elementary School eagerly learned the dances, Kevin was also absorbing his own lesson on becoming a teacher some day.

One of the participants in North County High School's Teachers Academy, he spent yesterday morning helping the elementary school celebrate its multicultural day and getting a taste of what it would be like to get a group of excited youngsters to focus and work.

"The kids are great," Raska said. "[The experience] just makes you want to be a part of it."

North County High is one of six Anne Arundel County high schools that offer a teaching academy, school officials' self-sufficient approach to addressing a chronic shortage of teachers: They're trying to grow their own.

The Teachers Academy program is designed to whet students' appetites by giving them a primer on what it takes to become a teacher. County officials hope classes such as these will nurture a crop of local teachers to help deal with a decades-long teacher shortage.

Every year, state colleges and universities churn out 2,100 new teachers. Maryland school systems, however, hire 7,000 teachers each year. To help recruit teachers from out-of-state, the Maryland Association of School Personnel Administrators is hosting its first statewide job fair April 5 at the Sheraton Baltimore City Center Hotel. Maryland also recruits teachers from the Philippines for math and science teaching positions, which are especially difficult to fill.

North County started its Teachers Academy in 2004; Arundel, Glen Burnie, Meade, Northeast and Old Mill high schools have their own programs.

Students in North County High's Intro to Teaching class, a prerequisite to an internship the following year, had their own ideas about what might assuage the teacher shortage. Higher pay and more awareness of teaching as a profession might help, said Raska, who said his trip to Linthicum Elementary solidified his desire to go into teaching.

The same was true of sophomores Hannah Davidson and Stacey Dial, who read the Linthicum children a story called "Postcards From Peru," then helped them make paper rabbits called animalitos.

"It seems like a fun career to get into," said Stacey, who wants to teach third-graders in Maryland one day. "They're not too young, and they're not too old," she said.

In the intro class, the group of 15 sophomores and juniors are learning about the roles and responsibilities of being a teacher, the type of education teachers need, how children learn and how to make lesson plans. They have to do presentations on hot topics in teaching, such as class size, school safety, graduation rates and teacher pay. They also take field trips such as the one to Linthicum Elementary School. For the internship, students must spend at least one semester visiting an elementary or middle school for one to two hours every day.

"They get to see what it is like to be in charge," said Amy Hess, who teaches the intro class. "It's a little bit of reality."

A family and consumer science teacher, Hess, 28, is teaching this class for the first time this year. She moved to Maryland because there were more jobs available than in her home state of Pennsylvania, one of the few with a teacher surplus.

Hess said that the earlier students decide on the teaching profession, the better off they are in college when they start picking courses.

The internship experience looks good on students' resumes, said Megan Parker, a junior at North County who is taking the intro class. She and her class partner, Miranda Odachowski, helped second-graders make Carnival masks for their lesson on Brazil. Miranda said the field trip instilled her with confidence.

"It gives you a sense of accomplishment that you can teach kids and be a positive example for them," said Miranda, a junior.

While the North County students seemed committed to becoming teachers, not everyone is determined to come home to Maryland to teach. Hannah said that depends on where her studies - and the road of life - take her.

"Wherever I feel I want to be ... ," Hannah said. "The door is open."

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