Fresh-faced college graduates, veteran educators and a career-changing grandmother are among the more than 80 new teachers attending the New Teachers Academy for Washington County Public Schools this week.
"I was volunteering in my grandson's kindergarten class, and it just clicked," said Rhonda Munson of Williamsport, who spent years in information-systems management with a global technology firm. That inspired her to get her teaching certificate through Frostburg University's campus at the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown.
Instead of working with and instructing adults in information technology, Munson will be teaching a second-grade class at Winter Street Elementary School.
"They've emphasized this week that one of the biggest parts of teaching is the relationship with each student," Munson said of the academy. "They have truly done an outstanding job working with the new teachers coming into the system."
Charissa Wolk of Hagerstown will be teaching fourth grade at Eastern Elementary. Her mother, Carol Hose, is entering her 38th year teaching at Salem Avenue Elementary, but Wolk deferred her ambitions, working at Sam's Club for 15 years.
"When I turned 30 I decided to go back to school and do what my dream was, which was to become a teacher," Wolk said.
Sam Richards, originally from Bentleyville, Pa., will teach world history to juniors at Boonsboro High School after two years of teaching at the American School in Brazil's capital, Brasilia.
"It was a really good cultural opportunity," said Richards, who spent his first five years teaching in Wicomico County, Md. Teaching the children of U.S. diplomats and business people was interesting, but Richards said he missed public school.
Paul Fagan, who is originally from Ebensburg, Pa., attended the school system's job fair earlier this year and was impressed by the "energetic atmosphere" he found.
"If they're that inspired to work here, then this is the place for me," the Indiana University of Pennsylvania graduate said.
"I want to have an impact on their lives," said Fagan, who will teach emotionally disturbed students at Salem Avenue Elementary School.
Will Delawter, who will teach third grade at Eastern Elementary School, knew back at Catoctin High School in Thurmont that he wanted to become either a baseball player or a teacher. Working with children during summer baseball camps convinced Delawter that he was "pretty good at this."
Delawter said he taught in Loudon County, Va., for a year, waiting for an opportunity to land a job in Maryland.
Jacob Lougheed of Greencastle, Pa., graduated from Shippensburg (Pa.) University in 2010 and worked as a long-term substitute in Washington County.
"That's when I decided I really wanted to work here," Lougheed said.
His ambition to become a teacher goes back to working with children at his church. Now, he will teach world cultures to seventh-grade students at E. Russell Hicks Middle School.
The new group of teachers is somewhat smaller than past years, in part because of the county's efforts to retain quality educators, said Joni Burkhart, a professional learning mentor for the school system.
"Ask all the questions. Use all the resources and give kids the best 6 1/2 hours of their day," is the advice elementary mentor Wendy Staley was giving to the new teachers.
"They're really about growth. How can I be better? ... How can I get every child to succeed?" Burkhart said of the teachers.
Classroom management, collaborating with other teachers and implementing curriculum are among the issues the academy addresses, she said. They also get to meet their supervisors and administrators, including the new superintendent, Clayton Wilcox.
The academy continues into next week, and all 1,700 teachers begin in-service days on Aug. 18, Burkhart said. The system's 22,000 students return to classes on Aug. 24, she said.