- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Students will flock back to Charles County public schools Aug. 25, shaking off the summer and entering the classrooms. But as of Tuesday, the school system had yet to fill 35 teaching positions.
School officials have hired 200 new teachers, including 54 elementary school teachers, 32 special education teachers and 17 English teachers. Hirings will continue throughout the school year, schools spokeswoman Katie O’Malley-Simpson said.
Of the 35 vacancies, six are for special education teachers. Another six are open for Spanish teachers, an anomaly, O’Malley-Simpson said.
Charles County Public Schools is the largest employer of the county, with more than 2,000 teachers and 1,100 support staff, as of 2013. At this time last year, the system had employed 124 new teachers. A full breakdown of teacher demographics will be available in late September.
The Independent interviewed four new teachers in the school system. For all four, teaching in the Charles County system will be their first full-time job. All of them hail from out of state and as a consensus complimented on “how nice everyone is in Charles County.”
Lisa Gerds, 24, is a special education teacher at Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer Elementary School.
Gerds is a native of a suburb of Detroit and earned her bachelor’s at Michigan State University.
Growing up in the bustle of Detroit, Gerds said she was seeking a shift to a rural area, something quiet, something soothing. She said Charles County reminds her of a quiet area of northern Michigan — near Gaylord — where she vacations every summer in a cabin her grandfather built.
“When I came out for the interview, I just knew instantly,” she said. “It’s beautiful out here.”
Gerds will be assisting third- through fifth-graders at Jenifer Elementary by conducting “pull outs,” where she’ll lift students with learning disabilities from their scheduled lessons and meet with them in her classroom to assess their needs. She said she likely will be helping nine or 10 students.
When she was undergoing her internships, both based in Michigan elementary schools, Gerds said she handled 18 or 19 children with special needs at a time, so this will be somewhat of a relief for her.
As a special education teacher, and during her internship in Michigan, she noted some lack of communication between the general staff and special education staff. Those teachers didn’t want their children being pulled from scheduled lessons, Gerds said.
“I’m just looking forward to it,” she said. “It’s always a learning experience. I’m learning just as much as I’m teaching the kids.”
Megan McAlpine, 23, is an art teacher at General Smallwood Middle School.
McAlpine applied for teaching jobs at only one county in Maryland: Charles. She stumbled on to the position when her friend and roommate also secured a position in the county.
After two long-term substitute positions in Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh, where McAlpine is originally from, she said she was ready. Everything in Pittsburgh was rushed, she said.
“Everyone down here just takes their time,” she said.
Even though McAlpine just graduated in 2013 from the California University of Pennsylvania, she also taught a three-credit art appreciation course at the Community College of Allegheny County, also proximate to Pittsburgh.
McAlpine’s bachelor’s and subsequent training certifies her to teach K-12 art, but she said she favors middle school-age students, which is not the most popular age demographic for some teachers, she said.
“This is the most difficult time of their lives, and they’re still finding themselves,” she said “Through my content area, I feel like I can help them a little bit better than others.”
McAlpine recognizes she will have to align her lessons to state and county mandates but said she wants to incorporate her lessons of basic line, texture and design and relate them to art history.
“You’re making connections across different content areas so that makes [the students] retain the information even better,” she said.
Michael McNeil, 23, is a chemistry teacher at La Plata High School.
McNeil had the joy of diving into his first plate of Maryland crabs last week, a far cry from the usual seafood cuisine of Michigan, his home state, he said. Though in a lot of aspects, he said, Charles County and La Plata are similar to his Michigan suburbs.
After graduating in 2014 from Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Mich., McNeil said he wanted to travel away from Michigan schools, which were too competitive for his tastes.
He will teach chemistry, though for a time he taught a range of sciences, biology and physics, in the largest city in Scotland, Glasgow.
Often, students only picture a chemist, wrapped in a lab coat, hunched over a table with beakers, McNeil said, but in reality, there’s many aspects of the field that he tries to impart: quality control, paperwork-centered chemists, among others.
“Some students are just doing it to get through school, and some kids struggle with it,” he said. “Most of the kids that struggle with it have trouble with the math, or they just can’t seem to get into it. But some just love it.”
McNeil said he’s nervous about beginning his first day of school, but he’s ready to dive in.
“Some kids you’ll find just love it,” he said.
Patrick James, 26, is a government teacher at Thomas Stone High School.
James moved to Maryland from Ohio just last week and began training Aug. 11 for his new job. A summer reading program he was teaching in Toledo, Ohio, had just ended Aug. 9.
A substitute teacher around Toledo for more than two years, James made the jump to Charles County after his aunt and sister, who both live in Charles County, encouraged him to apply. His parents weren’t too happy with him moving so far, though, he said.
“There’s not much for professionals out in Toledo,” he said. “It’s a lot more busy on the East Coast.”
James said he looks forward to setting a structured schedule — substituting can be hectic, being called in whenever you’re needed.
James has taught all grades K through 12 but said he prefers not to teach any grade below fourth. At Thomas Stone, he will teach national government to all grades and skill levels.
“I’m ready for a consistent routine,” he said.