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A strong work ethic might be instinctive to some people or something acquired with some resistance, but gaining the how-to information to carry out a profession may require mentoring from someone who’s already put the instructions into practice.

The transition from formal education in a field or just watching someone else do the work to actually being able to go it alone takes time and guidance. It can provide skills less painfully than the mistakes that often hone experience, particularly in occupations where mistakes may have severe consequences.

‘You don’t know ’til you’re taught’

For aspiring hairstylists first starting out at Scalped Salon & Spa in Prince Frederick as shampoo assistants, the first few months of employment mean assuming responsibility for menial daily tasks like doing laundry and cleaning toilets. They’re on the “bottom rung,” salon owner Margaret Thompson said.

The only way for what she calls her “little girls” to advance on the metaphorical ladder is to reach back and pull an even newer trainee onto the rung they had previously occupied.

“We work as a team,” Thompson said. “I’ve tried to make this whole environment to be about helping each other.”

Newly licensed stylists accepted to the roughly yearlong associate program build on the basics that they have already learned — cutting, coloring, doing perms, look customization — as well as intangibles like effective business skills, relating to all clients and, in many cases, realizing the importance of a giving attitude.

But most of all, they learn to do things the Scalped way, said Grace Mansfield, a stylist at the salon who helps to prepare shampoo stylists to enter the association program, which meets Tuesday evenings.

Many of the associates — who are working toward being hired as full-time stylists — are 18 or 19 years old. But before they make it “onto the floor,” they must hone their own personal professional and artistic style.

“It gives you confidence,” Mansfield said. “Typically in cosmetology schools, you’re doing roller sets all day on older women who are coming in to get a perm ,and they all have the same haircut, and they all look very similar. … It teaches them how to be the best stylist they can be rather than a hairstylist who just does exactly what they already learned in hair school.”

Also, as the salon is affiliated with Safe Harbor, a shelter for abused women and children, and Calvert Hospice — with many stylists donating these skills to people involved in these organizations — the associates see the importance of this volunteerism, prompting many of them to do same when they become stylists, Mansfield said.

“We feel like nothing makes you feel better than somebody pampering you, no matter how it is,” Thompson said. “I just want to pass that on to the stylists that work here because … it’s just the same as when you learn to color properly, formulate, whatever. You don’t know ’til you’re taught, ’til you’re shown.”

Adria Konoza graduated from the associate program in 2012 and now works at Scalped full time. She said she chose the salon in part because of the continuing education program it offers.

She remembers being the “brand new girl” and looking to others at the salon for help and guidance. Now, she said, the current associates sometimes look to her. It’s “such a great feeling because they know I’ve been through that. I know what you’re going through, and I have the education where I can help you,” she said.

ANDREA FRAZIER

Seizing the day

Mike Benton said his lowest point came in 1998. He’d recently gone through a divorce. His car had been repossessed, and he was homeless after his house went into foreclosure. He sold his refrigerator for $150 to buy food and was so broke he was unable to buy his then-8-year-old daughter a Christmas present.

“I remember meeting with my ex-wife and bawling like a baby,” Benton said. “It was pretty bad.”

But Benton also realized he had no one to blame but himself.

“It wasn’t that I was lazy. It was the decisions I was making. It wasn’t the president’s fault. It wasn’t Congress. It was me,” said the 47-year-old North Beach resident and town councilman. “Nobody should be at that point because this is the land of opportunity, and there I was because of ego, stupidity, all of it. It was me.”

And now Benton is helping change other people’s lives as a certified go-giver coach, which is based on five principles: the laws of value, compensation, influence, authenticity and receptivity.

“I’m trying to help people achieve and do more in the time they have on God’s green earth,” Benton said. “All your results are coming from your decisions, not from some great degree you got at university or some parents who raised you a certain way. It’s coming from your daily decisions that are affecting all the areas of your life: spiritually, physically, financially and emotionally. It’s based off the decisions you make every single day. You see great people do things, and you go, ‘Why would they do that? It’s just poor decision-making.’ Everything you do needs to be planned and organized.”

In 2008, Benton decided he wanted to coach everything (“turtles, people, I didn’t care what it was,” he said) and two years later he crossed paths with Bill Burg, who wrote “The Go-Giver.” Now, Benton meets weekly with clients for at least a 10-week period, though some have been with him since 2010. He is currently focused on speaking engagements in order to reach more people.

“We stop growing and getting better as people the moment we graduate from a school,” Benton said when asked what the biggest mistake people make. “It’s not just about education. It’s growing as a better person.”

The past six years he’s been the chair of the workplace investment board, which is an umbrella organization of the Tri-County Council for Southern Maryland. He currently coaches Mondays at a program called Job Match Re-employment.

“Résumés are important once you get into the facility and get to meet the right people, but a résumé is never going to get you a job,” said Benton, who gets people to focus on the 168-hour week instead of the 40-hour work week. “You’re battling high school students, the underemployed, the unemployed, the Baby Boom generation and the veterans. You’re not competing against someone who can walk in with a resumé. With the Internet you’re competing against tens of thousands of people.

“And it starts with your attitude and posture, so you can walk in there and sell yourself. I change the way they look at themselves. I tell them that what matters most is not what others think of you. It’s what you think of yourself.”

Benton has come far during his 16-year journey. He’s now married with four children. He’s running for North Beach town council re-election and is a member of the workplace investment board and the Calvert County Economic Development Authority.

“[People] put too much stock into listening to people that don’t have a freaking clue that are worse off from them but have a better ability to speak louder than them,” Benton said. “So they walk away and think, ‘Well, they must know what they’re talking about.’ No, they don’t. Be careful who you listen to because you buy their opinion, [and] you buy their lifestyle.”

MICHAEL REID

Learning a different world

Rebecca Portillo is experiencing her first year of teaching professionally this year in her ninth-grade English classroom at Northern High School. While the job may be new, the location is not because Portillo originally is from Calvert County, having grown up in Lusby and graduated from Patuxent High School.

“I had the opportunity to be taught by some amazing teachers who influenced my education, and they helped me decide what I wanted to do with my life, so it was something that I always wanted to give back to the community who gave me my path in life,” Portillo said.

With a bachelor’s degree in English literature and teaching certificate from Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pa., Portillo is navigating her new job well but admits there are “definitely adjustments you need to make.”

To help her with those adjustments is Jamie Culp, a fellow English teacher who has been at Northern for five years and in the teaching profession for 14. Culp is a mentor for Portillo and has shepherded two other rookie teachers in the past.

“A mentor involves helping and assisting new teachers who are new to the profession,” Culp said. “We want to help them understand their professional duties along with the curriculum and give them a sounding board when things aren’t going well or they’re having a bad day.”

All new teachers in Calvert public schools are assigned a mentor teacher who will assist on site throughout the school year, as part of the system’s new/beginning teacher program.

Culp said when she began teaching, she did not have a mentor but wishes she had to help her understand not just curriculum, content and discipline, but the professionalism that’s needed.

“It’s certainly a difficult position to get into right now because of all the changes that are going on with education right now,” Culp said. “There’s a lot for teachers to take on.”

Culp said she has heard stories of young teachers who have made mistakes with their students on social media.

“They need to understand the social and professional boundaries that should be observed,” Culp said.

Culp said the most challenging aspect of being a new teacher, she remembered, was trying to balance everything, including instruction, classroom discipline, making friends with colleagues and building relationships with students and learning the rules of the school system.

“School is a different world than an office. That’s for sure,” Culp said.

“There are things they don’t teach you in school and in student teaching that someone who is experienced has a better understanding of, and being able to go to someone in the school and ask those questions is very comforting,” Portillo said.

SARA NEWMAN

The academy’s just the beginning

New graduates from the Maryland State Police academy arrive at their first assignments at barracks throughout the state, where they are entrusted to a field training trooper, one of the law officers already there who has attained a promotion to trooper first class.

Lt. Michael Thompson, a St. Mary’s County native now serving as the commander of the Leonardtown barrack, completed the academy in 1991 and went to a barrack on the Eastern Shore, where he was paired with a field training trooper who now is a candidate for Talbot County sheriff in this year’s general election. Thompson said that early hands-on experience to develop his skills in traffic and criminal enforcement gave a broad base to the pyramid of his career. He said he looks for similar attributes in his staff in choosing the field training troopers to work for eight weeks with his new arrivals from six months at the academy.

“I’m going to pick the best people that we have to train others,” Thompson said, as they make their way from the “methodical” nature of academy training to responding to actual calls on the road. “The field training aspect is where you apply that knowledge,” the lieutenant said, “to the [real] world scenario.”

Cpl. Nicholas Gresko, a patrol shift supervisor in his eighth year with the agency, all in Leonardtown, said “communication is No. 1” priority as a field training trooper shows a new academy graduate how to work through and complete a task.

“Some, you have to put the puzzle together for them, piece by piece,” Gresko said. “The more and more you do it, the repetition, the better you get at doing it, and safer.”

When a call for service goes out, a responding trooper can “formulate a plan prior to getting there,” the corporal said, based on their training and initial information from the dispatcher, whether they’ll be encountering someone injured in an accident or someone with a weapon.

“You treat everyone the same as you would want to be treated,” Gresko said, giving each person “the same respect as you would anybody else.”

Gresko said field training troopers make daily reports on their new trooper’s grasp of officer safety, proper appearance, driving ability, report writing and radio communications. Thompson said he reviews that information each week.

The Leonardtown barrack is authorized to have 30 sworn officers, with additional regional assets. The academy graduates a new class each June and December, and usually two or three of the new troopers are assigned to the Leonardtown barrack.

The lieutenant said it’s not uncommon for a weakness in a new trooper’s performance to result in their return to the academy “for some retraining” before they return to their barrack.

“That’s done to ensure that the citizens of St. Mary’s County have the utmost trained troopers,” Gresko said.

JOHN WHARTON