The teachers, more than 600 of them, shuffled from classroom to classroom at Henry A. Wise Jr. High School in Upper Marlboro this week. But instead of leading students through math and reading and science lessons, members of this group were attending class themselves, learning how to be Prince George’s County teachers.
During the county’s annual “professional educator induction program,” the teachers spent the past three days learning about new national academic standards, teaching practices and changes in teacher evaluations.
The program, which is mandated in Maryland and offered in school systems throughout the country, is designed to help new teachers — some of whom have never stood in front of a group of students — manage a classroom.
The new Prince George’s teachers are arriving in the school district as it undergoes a major overhaul, with the recent appointment of a new schools chief executive officer and the selection of a reconstituted Board of Education.
Melissa Richardson, a mother of two and former private school secretary who also has “dabbled” in banking, said she is optimistic as she begins her teaching career in Prince George’s. She said she believes that the county and the school system are moving in the right direction.
“I just feel like they have it under control,” she said, adding that Kevin M. Maxwell, the new schools chief executive, “seems student-centered and wants to support the teachers. I couldn’t ask for more. I think we just have to wait to see what happens.”
Richardson has something in common with Maxwell: She graduated from Prince George’s County public schools. Maxwell, who also taught in Prince George’s public schools, returned on Aug. 1 to lead the school system.
“I wanted to go where I was needed and where I felt like I could make a difference,” said Richardson, who will teach fourth grade special education at Francis Scott Key Elementary School in District Heights.
Ken Sichler, who worked in a group home in Baltimore County and substituted in Montgomery County before getting the Prince George’s teaching job, sat in the cafeteria across from his mentor, Vanessa Miles, on Wednesday. Miles, a lawyer-turned-teacher who retired in June, offered practical advice during a lunch break.
“On the very first day you have to get their attention, hold their attention and make it fun,” Miles told Sichler, who will work one-on-one with Miles for the first few weeks of the school year.
Sichler, who will teach third grade at Deerfield Run Elementary School in Laurel, said he appreciated the help. “It’s just good to have someone to show you the way,” he said.
Aside from useful everyday guidance, the program aims to provide teachers — who have been taught general theories about education — with the tools that will enable them to teach specifically in Prince George’s, said Pamela Shetley, acting director of human capital management.
“You may go to D.C. and it may be different,” Shetley said. “For example, STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) is a major thrust for us. Somewhere else they may just strictly focus on science.”
Before conducting science labs, Richardson and about 25 other soon-to-be teachers watched a slide presentation on the Next Generation Science Standards, which complement Common Core, the new national education guidelines approved by most states and the District. They then asked Godfrey Rangasammy, the science supervisor for the school system, what they should expect in their new schools.
“Kids are learning for relevancy,” Rangasammy told the new teachers. “They want you to make it relevant for their world.”
Some of the information was not new to Mavis Bouie, who said she taught for many years in Georgia. She said she came to Maryland after her teacher’s salary was slashed because of budget cuts and she lost her home this year.
“I was sleeping in my car,” Bouie said. “Now I just thank God that I have a job.”
Beginning Aug. 19, she will teach reading and social studies at Thomas Claggett Elementary School in District Heights.