- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 29, 2000

The Montgomery County, Md., public school system hired so many new teachers this summer that administrators had to divide the traditional orientation into two sessions.
Nearly 1,200 new instructors a record high picked up tote bags, met with principals and jammed into the Walt Whitman High School auditorium in Bethesda for one of two welcoming assemblies yesterday.
"Welcome to the best day of the year," Elizabeth L. Arons, associate superintendent of human resources, told the recruits during the morning's second rally. "As one of the principals said to me this morning, 'Happy new year.' "
Classes begin Sept. 5 for Montgomery County's 135,000 students. The school system, according to Superintendent Jerry D. Weast, ranks among the 20 largest in the nation and the "top two or three in quality."
"I'm excited. I'm a little nervous," said Kate Scaletti, 28, who begins work at Whetstone Elementary in Gaithersburg.
Yesterday's event followed a week of orientation activities aimed at planning specific instructional strategies and learning the refinements of classroom management.
The teachers, representing 36 states and three foreign countries, were selected from more than 9,000 applicants.
Half of those hired have experience in other school districts. The other half are beginning their first year of teaching.
"You are the best and brightest in America," Mr. Weast said. "Are you ready?"
Several administrators told the new hires this is the best time to get into teaching.
In an interview, Mr. Weast explained that a large amount of American children entered schools during the late 1960s and early 1970s. High numbers of teachers were hired to handle the surge.
Student enrollment fluctuated before reaching all-time highs in the 1990s. Now the teachers from the 1960s and '70s are retiring, prompting the need for new instructors.
"You're coming into the profession at the right time," said James A. Williams, deputy superintendent of schools. "Across the country, teachers are needed."
Said Patricia O'Neill, president of the Montgomery County Board of Education, "You could have taught anywhere."
Sean Reid, 32, a new honors chemistry teacher at Walt Whitman, said he interviewed at four different area school districts. Montgomery County is paying him $10,000 more a year than his last school, the private Good Counsel High School in Wheaton.
"So many school districts are coming up short," he said. "They're feeling the pinch."
Mr. Weast said each new hire will be paired with a mentor teacher, who will provide advice and support throughout the year. First-time instructors will get training on the job.
Those with less experience seemed to perk up the most during testimonials from two teachers who had just completed their first year in Montgomery County.
Kia Davis, a math teacher at John F. Kennedy High School in Silver Spring, urged the recruits to help their children build dreams and foster a nurturing environment. She said that although it might be their first time before a class, they should project an atmosphere of control to give the students confidence in them.
"Even though we don't get to carry a cape, I think we deserve a place in the superheroes lineup," she said.
Robert Ferrell, a science teacher at John T. Baker Middle School in Damascus, recounted a story about a group of students who helped him revise a lesson plan so other students could understand it better.
"They taught me," he said. "They showed me that sometimes I can be quite confusing."

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