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Course aims at reducing teacher shortage

August 11, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

Frostburg State University is offering a new program designed to address a teacher shortage in Washington County and throughout Maryland.

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The university's 13-month Master of Arts in Teaching program began at its Hagerstown Center this month with 13 students who plan to earn elementary certification before fall 2000.

"We're expecting a tremendous teacher shortage in Maryland, particularly in Washington County, where they haven't been able to recruit a big enough pool of teachers," FSU's College of Education Dean Susan Arisman said in a press release.

"We plan to grow our own."

Maryland is in the early stages of a critical teacher shortage, according to State Schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick. Fewer college graduates are entering the profession and baby boomers are retiring, she said.

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The Washington County Board of Education receives fewer teacher applications each year. Between October 1996 and October 1998, the number of annual applications dropped 36 percent from 1,866 to 1,134.

School Board Human Resources Director Phil Ray said the school system mostly needs teachers in specialty areas, such as special education, science and math. It needs secondary teachers more than elementary teachers, he said.

Frostburg's courses are aimed at people seeking a second career, according to Coordinator of Educational Programs Melanie Biermann. Applicants must have a bachelor's degree and a strong liberal arts background.

They also must pass Praxis I, a standardized test required of all Maryland teachers. It is a general knowledge test similar to the Scholastic Assessment Test.

The program parallels a medical internship, combining theory with practice, according to Biermann. Each week, students will spend two seven-hour days in local schools from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. One day will be spent at FSU's Hagerstown center.

School internships will provide the teachers-to-be with hands-on experience, Biermann said.

The program has attracted people from various professions, including students with degrees in journalism and theater, according to Biermann. "We have folks who come from all walks of life," she said.

When Suzanne Winders was a freshman at Hood College 14 years ago, there was a glut of teachers in Maryland. "They said, don't go into education," she said. The Smithsburg resident got a bachelor's degree in retail and interior design.

Winders, 31, now works at Bast Furniture in Boonsboro. Last year, she started volunteering at Old Forge Elementary School when her eldest daughter, Brittany, started attending the school.

"I decided I wanted a change and I wanted to do something more rewarding," said Winders. She enrolled in FSU's new program, glad she doesn't have to start from square one. "For someone who already has a degree, it's a great way to do it," she said.

"I couldn't afford to quit work completely and go back to school full time," she said.

Winders anticipates spending about $8,000, to earn her master's degree and become certified to teach in elementary schools.

Jenny Blum, 37, of Smithsburg, was a stay-at-home mom until last fall when she began substitute teaching. "I did enjoy it tremendously," she said.

Blum has a bachelor's degree in business administration, but she's thinking of teaching full time. "It's a career I could really enjoy and grow into. I love kids, I love to see them succeed," she said.

Blum checked with Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pa., and Shepherd College in Shepherdstown, W. Va. She decided Frostburg's program would be faster and easier. "I thought this would be the best route," she said.

Frostburg plans to offer a similar master's program offering secondary school certification in 2000.

The application deadline for next year's round is March 1, 2000. For more information, call FSU's Hagerstown Center at 301-790-4020.

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