Butterflies Abound as First-Year Teachers Await Day One

Munachiso Onuoha prepares her fifth-grade classroom at Glenn Dale Elementary School, where the University of Maryland graduate is set to begin her teaching career today.
Munachiso Onuoha prepares her fifth-grade classroom at Glenn Dale Elementary School, where the University of Maryland graduate is set to begin her teaching career today. (By Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)
By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 21, 2006

Munachiso Onuoha anxiously awaited her first day of fifth grade in Prince George's County yesterday afternoon.

"I am so nervous, just thinking of all the things that could not go right," she said. "I've been sleeping well. Tonight might be another story, though."

Onuoha is no fifth-grader. She's their teacher, a 22-year-old graduate of the University of Maryland who tidied her classroom and calmed her nerves yesterday. Today, she begins her career at Glenn Dale Elementary School.

It's the first day of school in Prince George's, and classes will begin over the next few weeks across the region. And in this annual rite, first-year teachers have at least one thing in common with their pupils: the jitters.

Hundreds of recent college graduates will begin their careers as teachers in the region's schools this month. In the District, where classes begin next Monday, 114 first-year teachers will enter the classroom through the Teach for America program, which trains recent graduates for the profession and places them in school systems across the country.

Teach for America more than doubled the number of beginning teachers it recruited to Washington from last year's total of 45, Executive Director Amy Black said. "We just think there's so much potential in D.C. with the kids and the families here, and we're excited to be a part of bringing good instruction to the city," she said.

These teachers may be rookies, but they are well aware of the unruly reputation of U.S. classrooms. Some say a source of their jitters is whether they can establish authority in the classroom on Day One.

"Students may have an initial wall they set up," said Spanish teacher Javier Moreno, 23. "They'll be testing me. I just need to make sure I'm prepared to take those tests."

A recent University of California at Santa Barbara graduate from Anaheim, Calif., Moreno was recruited by Teach for America to work at Woodbridge Elementary and Middle School, a public charter in Northeast Washington.

Teach for America recruits spent the summer training in Philadelphia and have been in the District for two weeks preparing for classes. Moreno said he will set a tone of authority from the first day to earn his students' respect for the rest of the school year. He also said he's prepared to respond to out-of-line students.

"I'm nervous that I could get a curveball thrown at me and something may not go as planned," Moreno said. "I'm just making sure I have my backup plans ready."

Many first-year teachers are not a part of Teach for America. Onuoha and a colleague, rookie fourth-grade teacher Rebecca Fields, worked as interns at Glenn Dale Elementary and were hired on as full-time teachers this year.


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