- The Washington Times - Monday, September 24, 2007

Mark Hajjar has just gone from student to teacher. A graduate student at the University of Maryland in College Park, he recently began teaching sociology and government at Oxon Hill High School in Oxon Hill.

He is working as a paid intern as part of his graduation requirements. In August 2008, he will receive a master’s degree in education with a specialization in social studies, after completing the 13-month program. Because of his arrangement as a paid intern, he will work for the Prince George’s County school district for two years after graduating.

“I always wanted to teach,” says Mr. Hajjar, 28, of Brookeville. “I had great social studies teachers in high school. I wanted to do what they did.”

Going from being a student in an education class to the teacher of the class can be quite an adjustment. Undergraduate students usually start as student teachers, while graduate students most likely begin as paid or unpaid interns.

Since Mr. Hajjar is a paid intern at Oxon Hill High School, he is the “teacher of record,” or the teacher in charge of his own classroom. Although he has a mentor who he talks to about his lesson plans, he conducts his classroom by himself.

“The questions you have to ask yourself are: ‘How will you get kids to learn? How do you teach kids to read and write?’ ” Mr. Hajjar says. “I told them on the first day that grades aren’t important to me, if you learn. It’s not me against you. It’s not a power struggle.”

The goal is to help the students do the best they can, Mr. Hajjar says. He aims to know his students and be honest with them. Although he was a bit nervous when he started teaching, he tried to show the class that he takes his job seriously.

“It’s kind of a trial by fire,” Mr. Hajjar says. “You will try something for one class and it might work. If the kids don’t understand or they’re bored, you tweak it. You learn as you go.”

One-third of the students in the master’s certification degree program that Mr. Hajjar is completing are paid interns, says Jean Snell, program coordinator.

The internship component of the program serves as a hiring pipeline in certification areas where Montgomery County and Prince George’s County are struggling to find teachers, she says.

“We feel confident that the purpose of the program is to prepare our students to be good classroom teachers,” says Ms. Snell, who holds a doctorate in education. “It will prepare them to take up all the different responsibilities that a teacher has to be successful.”

The internship is the domain in which students are actively transferring theory into practice, Ms. Snell says.

“For some of them, it’s like fish taking to water,” Ms. Snell says. “Others discover they didn’t take to it as readily for the first time. That’s the beauty of an internship. It’s a laboratory setting for them, to learn by practice and supervision.”

Managing a classroom, translating knowledge of the subject into meaningful lessons and delivering those lessons are all part of being a good teacher, Ms. Snell says. Understanding and evaluating how students learn also is important.

“Several decades ago, my perception is that teachers’ conception of their role was to impart content and somehow deliver it,” Ms. Snell says. “That didn’t ever work for the vast majority of students. It isn’t sufficient to know some stuff and lecture on it and call teaching done.”

At first, new teachers aren’t sure what to expect, says Robert Thompson, 56, of College Park. He is an education graduate student at the University of Maryland who is teaching ninth-grade English as a paid intern at Oxon Hill High School. He formerly worked as the director of information systems at Arena Stage in Southwest and is making education his second career.

“For me, it wasn’t that big of a jump,” Mr. Thompson says. “A lot of teaching is management. Almost everything is planning and preparation.”

Good communication with students, other teachers and parents is an integral part of being a successful teacher, says Heather Palmieri, 22, of Odenton, Md. She is an undergraduate student at the University of Maryland, majoring in elementary education, and a second-grade student teacher at Yorktown Elementary School in Bowie.

“I’ve taught science right now and gradually they want me to pick up another subject,” Miss Palmieri says. “By the end of October, I will be fully in control, teaching everything.”

Long hours have been an adjustment for Katie Clemmer, 21, of Jamesville, N.Y. She is an undergraduate elementary education major at Catholic University of America in Northeast and a fifth-grade student teacher at Bunker Hill Elementary School in Northeast.

Last year, as a junior, Miss Clemmer spent several hours a few times a week at the elementary school. As a senior, she has spent every day from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the classroom.

“The toughest part has been behavior management, getting the kids to calm down,” Miss Clemmer says. “It’s the step to learning so that learning can take place.”

It should go without saying that teachers really need to like children, says Jennifer Cuddapah, assistant professor in the school of education at Johns Hopkins University’s Shady Grove campus in Rockville. She holds a doctorate in curriculum and teaching.

“When all is said and done, teachers need to be able to know how to determine that the students have learned what it is they have taught,” Ms. Cuddapah says. “If this kid today is not getting it, then how do you know that and what else could you try?”

Thinking outside the box will help the students to learn creatively, says Danielle Stancil, 24, of Laurel, an education graduate student at Johns Hopkins University. She is in her second year as a paid intern at Gaithersburg High School, teaching algebra and geometry to students in grades nine through 12.

Hopkins’ Shady Grove campus has a partnership with Montgomery County Public Schools. After Miss Stancil graduates in May, she will teach for the county for three years.

“Originally, I was very nervous,” Miss Stancil says. “Every day I would come in at 6 or 6:30 a.m. and not leave until 5 p.m., trying to get a handle on things. You are more nervous the first year. You think, ‘Am I doing things right?’ It wears off as the year goes on.”

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