Returning to the classroom|Sixteen adults take on duties as new teachers

Published 1:38 pm Sunday, August 23, 2009

Staff Writer

As the clock ticked down Thursday afternoon to the start of classes Tuesday for most of the 7,100 or so public school students in Beaufort County, Gil Robbins’ to-do list was growing.
Teacher’s meetings, lesson plans, classroom details, an open house for students and their parents — as he crossed off one item, he would discover something else he had to do.
“I’m staying up late at night and getting up early mornings,” Robbins said in an interview in at Northside High School, where he will teach U.S. history and psychology this semester. “A teacher who has been here for 10 years has a battery of information. I have none.”
By Friday afternoon, Andrea Blair, a new ninth-grade teacher at Washington High School, had winnowed her to-do list for the start of school to “running copies, tweaking lessons and watching for any schedule changes.” She will teach Foundations of Algebra and Algebra I and have some 18 students for homeroom this semester.
And at the same time, new Southside High School mathematics teacher Danielle Johnson was finishing up some lesson plans and taking an inventory of books. She will teach geometry and Special Topics in Mathematics to classes containing ninth-, 11th- and 12th-grade students.
“It’s pretty much ready,” she said as she looked around her classroom. “At least, for the first day. Beyond that, we’re on a day-to-day schedule.”
Preparing for the start of a new school year is a daunting task for Robbins, 51, Blair and Johnson, both 22, and the 13 other newly minted teachers who are gearing up for their first year of teaching in the Beaufort County school system.
But it’s also exciting and full of promise, they said.
“It’s exciting,” Blair said. “There’s some anxiety but not too much. I have a great department with veterans who are behind me.”
Robbins admitted he is nervous about making a good impression when students walk into his classroom for the first time Tuesday.
“Those first few days of school are critical in making a connection with your students,” he said.
Their reasons for becoming teachers are varied.
Blair, a teaching fellow at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics with her teacher’s license.
She was inspired to become a teacher, in part, by her mother, who returned to the classroom to become an elementary-school teacher.
“I grew up in a teacher’s classroom,” she said.
Johnson earned dual bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and mathematics education at East Carolina University. She said she was inspired to become a teacher because she had a good teacher when she was a student.
“Because of that, I really like sharing my interest in mathematics with my students,” she said.
Unlike Blair and Johnson, who knew early in their lives that they wanted to become teachers, teaching “evolved into a passion” for Robbins who worked 13 years in Beaufort County’s land-records office and five years in real estate before seeking a job as a teacher.
“I love working with kids. I love to watch their eyes light up,” said Robbins, whose years as a baseball coach led him to the realization that teaching was his true calling.
Robbins holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in geography. He is a lateral-entry teacher. Lateral entry is designed to give professionals the opportunity to enter the educational field based on other experiences in other professions. It lets qualified individuals obtain teaching positions and begin teaching right away, while obtaining a license as they teach.
John Conway, director of human resources for Beaufort County Schools, said he is pleased that Robbins, Blair, Johnson and the 13 other new teachers chose to teach in Beaufort County. And he is confident that they can rise to the challenges that face them this year.
“I know they’re going to do a good job,” he said. “I’m excited about having them in the system and watching their progress this year.”
Conway oversaw orientation for the system’s new teachers Aug. 12-14.
“I found them to be highly qualified,” he said.
Being a teacher is not an easy job.
According to an often-cited study by the National Center for Education Statistics, many new teachers question that choice. Center studies show that, nationwide, one in five new teachers leaves the profession within the first three years.
(“New Teachers: Getting Them and Keeping Them,” an article in Gazette, offers even grimmer statistics, claiming that 30 percent will leave teaching during the first two years and that 40 to 50 percent will leave during the first seven years.)
But National Center for Education Statistics studies also show that with the proper support and guidance, those numbers can be improved.
Mentoring and other support programs like those in North Carolina and in Beaufort County help reduce the number of new teachers who leave the field, according to the center.
Statewide, beginning teachers in North Carolina participate in a three-year Beginning Teacher Support Program. During this time, beginning teachers have formal orientation sessions, mentor support and a series of evaluations.
Beaufort County recruits retired teachers as mentors to work with its beginning teachers during their first three years on the job to answer questions and help address any concerns they might have.
Beginning teachers also receive fewer additional duties during the first years of their careers under the support program. For example, they are assigned no extracurricular activities, have a limited number of exceptional or difficult students in their classes and are given minimal, noninstructional duties, according to program guidelines.
“There were definitely those moments during orientation when the color ran out of my face,” Blair said. “If I were by myself, I’d already have gray hair.”
As Blair talked, two of her fellow teachers in the Ninth Grade Academy at Washington High School stopped by her room to see how many workbooks she needed.
Johnson and Robbins also cited support from their fellow teachers as helping smooth the way this year.
Johnson added that she will not be one of those teachers who leave after less than five years.
“I definitely plan on sticking with teaching,” she said. “If I decided I don’t like it, I don’t know what I’d do.”