- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 14, 2001

ELLICOTT CITY, Md. For 13 years, Andy Gerb helped keep the Hubble Space Telescope aloft, but he says his new job is much harder: explaining the social and historical significance of computers to a roomful of teen-agers.
"I really feel like I'm out of my league trying to teach that particular class," he said recently, adding that he's giving it his best shot. Forget that he'd rather be teaching health.
Mr. Gerb, 40, a longtime computer programmer who once supervised a team of engineers at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, began teaching this fall at Centennial High School, west of the city. He's one of a handful of new teachers at the school and one of thousands nationwide who are battling paperwork, long hours and high expectations in their first year of teaching.
A rising tide of school enrollment in most of the nation is expected to grow over the next four years before leveling off, according to U.S. census data. By 2009, public schools will need to hire as many as 2.7 million teachers as the bulk of the nation's teaching force nears retirement, the U.S. Education Department estimates.
With surveys showing that about half of teachers quit after five years, newly minted teachers will play a vital role.
New teachers these days arrive with widely different kinds of training. Thousands enter the classroom with special emergency credentials, especially in big cities.
Mr. Gerb, on the other hand, spent three years taking night classes at several local colleges. He cobbled together enough credits and practice-teaching experience, including six weeks in Baltimore last spring, to land a job in Howard County.
Mr. Gerb is actually certified to teach both computers and health, and hopes to land a few health classes next year.
Like many school districts, the county pairs new teachers with more-experienced mentor teachers and offers regular classes to help them cope with paperwork, classroom discipline and parent conferences.
Ginette Suarez, a mentor teacher in the D.C. public schools, said one-on-one help is the most effective way to keep turnover low.
"The first two or three years is when you lose teachers due to frustration, when there is no one to vent or to give advice," she said. "There's a lot of paperwork, and a lot of times that can be the most frustrating or the most stressful thing."
Several teachers said inadequate or outdated textbooks, a lack of supplies and large class sizes have made their first weeks trying.
Jessica Moser, a new fourth-grade teacher at Manor Woods Elementary School, a few miles west of Centennial, said she was amazed by the amount of time she spends grading papers, creating bulletin-board displays and writing lesson plans.
Miss Moser must also deliver rigorous academics in the suburban school, one of the highest-scoring on Maryland proficiency exams.
"I know parents can have very high expectations of their children in this kind of community, which is good for their children, but it's a little intimidating as a new teacher," she said.
Mary Ellen Edwards, a professor at the University of Toledo College of Education, said the new teachers face an unprecedented emphasis on basic skills because of state and federal efforts to raise standardized test scores. Isolation is also another big challenge, she said.
"They don't really have the time to meet with their colleagues, to talk about what works and what doesn't," she added.

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