- The Washington Times - Friday, August 3, 2001

After 20 years of seeing young lives destroyed by drugs, Norman Heath decided he could help more with a textbook and a chalkboard than with a badge and a gun.
Mr. Heath, 54, retired from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration in December. It was his experience as a narcotics officer, he said, that made him apply for a job as a teacher with the District's public schools.
"In the last five years of my job, I dealt with more and more violators who were very young. I had more and more opportunity to look at children who were on the wrong road of life," he said.
Now, as a teacher, he said he hopes to right some of that. "I want to go back and try and serve the children," he said. "I want to commit the rest of my life to helping them."
Mr. Heath is among more than 100 people from a variety of fields who have made career moves into teaching jobs in the District's public schools this year. They are federal workers, physicists, journalists and administrators, among others — all part of the District's Teaching Fellows Program, created by Superintendent Paul L. Vance and first lady Laura Bush in February.
D.C. officials say the professionals may be novices in the classroom, but they bring a wealth of real-world experiences to share with students. Most have spent years in other professions, and many took big pay cuts to make the transition.
All say they were motivated by one thing: the opportunity to teach.
"D.C. is my city I want to be part of the difference we are going to make," said Richard Green, who previously worked for a local public relations firm.
Mr. Green, at 24 one of the younger recruits, took a pay cut of $10,000 to teach, he said.
The teaching fellows will earn $31,000 to $37,000, according to Scott Cartland, the program's coordinator.
Broadcast journalist Monique Green, no relation to Richard, thinks the communication skills she can impart to her students will be useful in a competitive world. Ms. Green, 25, who attended School Without Walls in Southeast, said she was mislabeled as a special-needs student.
"I was bored in class. I didn't have a teacher who would have pushed me to the next level," she said.
The teachers in the program say they know they are wading, eyes wide open, into a public-school system mired in problems.
While neighboring counties post huge enrollment jumps, public schools in the District continue to lose students as people move out or opt to put their children into charter or private schools. By some estimates, the District will lose 10,000 students over the next 10 years.
"Sure, it is a challenge," said Richard Ceasor, 35, who worked for a legal publishing company and as a martial-arts instructor. But, he adds, "there is a paucity of black role models in the system."
He wants to be one and is prepared to work for it, he said.
Margaret Haines worked as assistant comptroller at the University of Maryland in College Park for more than 20 years. But teaching was her dream, she said.
"I had a real desire to teach, but I never had the right time," she said. Now, at 48, she said she is in a position to pursue a different career without having to worry about taking a pay cut. "This time, I can take that type of risk," she said.
All fellows go through a seven-week program during which they are teamed with experienced teachers and prepared by professors from local universities. The teachers all have a minimum of a bachelor's degree, but most have advanced training in other fields, Mr. Cartland said.
The fellows make a two-year commitment to the program, and agree to work toward earning teacher certification during that time. They receive financial incentives, including a $5,000 stipend for the summer training and $7,000 toward tuition for a master's degree or to complete certification programs.
A majority of the people in the program this year are D.C. residents, organizers said. "As many as 55 percent of our fellows live in the District. They are really in touch with the schools here," Mr. Cartland said.
Ms. Green grew up in Southeast and says she understands the problems of children in the District's schools. "I am one of them. I live in their neighborhoods. I can identify with the challenges they face," she said.

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