Beginning the ride of their lives
More than 400 fresh-faced educators learn the joys of being new teachers in Baltimore County


When she imagined how her first official day as a Baltimore County teacher would go, Jamie Powers never envisioned standing on a desk holding aloft a deck of playing cards.

But there she was Tuesday morning, laughing and reaching for the ceiling atop a rickety desk inside a Perry Hall High School music room. It was, she said later, her team's last-ditch attempt to win an "ice-breaker" competition to create the tallest house of cards without communicating and using only one hand.

Her interpretation didn't qualify, but it was a good example of creative thinking, of going to Plan B in the classroom when Plan A – in this case, actually building a house of cards – doesn't work.

"It was a card tower! I kinda thought I was thinking outside the box," said Powers, who begins teaching vocal music at Charlesmont Elementary School in Dundalk. "It was fun, though. I'm really not one of your more normal people."

That kind of creative thinking was on display all over Perry Hall High this week as Powers and more than 400 of her colleagues – the newest class of teachers to begin their BCPS careers – settled in for the three-day New Teacher Orientation program. The event, which includes a day of professional development at each teacher's home school, annually centers around the skills and information that new teachers need to navigate their new jobs and new school system.

Most of all, perhaps, the New Teacher Orientation focuses on making sure every teacher knows and can feel the support of the school system – from the new friends they meet at the program to the institutional and academic supports available to them to the administrators they will work with when they and all other teachers report for their first duty day on August 18.

"Get to know one new person today," Superintendent S. Dallas Dance told the new teachers as he, Maryland State Superintendent Lillian Lowery, Board of Education President David Uhlfelder and other school leaders offered welcoming remarks. "Or two. Or three or four. We're all here to support you."

The support came from Uhlfelder, too, who in his remarks gave teachers a pop quiz on BCPS trivia: "How many students do we have?" he asked. "How many teachers? How many buses do we operate? How much is our budget?"

With each question, teachers hollered back answers – right answers. "Some of you are paying attention," Uhlfelder said, laughing.

Added Teachers Association of Baltimore County President Abby Beytin in her remarks to teachers, "Today you begin the ride of your life. So, welcome!"

Patricia Houston felt the love. A primary special education teacher at Westowne Elementary School, she had begun substitute teaching in BCPS last year before landing the full-time position for 2014. She had raves for the Orientation experience.

"It's extremely helpful, even for me, who has been in the schools a bit," Houston said. "They guide you, they coach you, they give you curriculum guides and all the information you need. It's important even for seasoned teachers."
Powers, too, said the introduction to BCPS was helpful. "I'd heard great things about teaching in Baltimore County," she said, in part because she is married to Brandon Powers, a music teacher at Deep Creek Middle School in Essex just across Back River from his wife's post at Charlesmont. "It will be interesting following all of the innovation here, especially the tech integration," she added. "It's really cool."

Support was there in the day's lessons, too. After the card house exercise, BCPS music Supervisor Karl Stewart challenged the room full of young music teachers. "How did that exercise feel?" he asked.

"Like I wanted to flip the table," said J. Colin McGough, who starts teaching soon at Owings Mills Elementary School and Campfield Early Learning Center.

"And there are going to be days like that, when you feel like flipping the table," said Stewart. "But you don't do that. And you know you won't because you know you have to keep going. You know you have to keep going for the children and so you do."

And so they did, and they will, into the first days of the new school year and beyond. The ride of their lives is just beginning.

For additional photos of New Teachers Orientation, please visit:

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