First-year teachers celebrate the start of their careers

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 9, 2012

By Sarah Campbell
SALISBURY — The fact that Jennifer Taylor will start her first day of teaching in less than 20 days is almost surreal.
The new North Rowan Middle School chorus teacher said that thought kept running through her head Wednesday as she sat surrounded by her peers during the Rowan-Salisbury School System’s annual new teacher breakfast.
“I almost started crying because of the realization of how hard I’ve worked to get here,” she said. “Now I’m here, and it’s exciting.”
Taylor, a Cabarrus County native, said her family’s income didn’t offer much wiggle room, so she had to put herself through college at Pfeiffer University.
“I’ve worked so hard to get here that now that I’m here I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, is this real.’ ”
Donna Girty, who will be a kindergarten teacher at Koontz Elementary, said she feels the same way.
“This is a dream come true,” she said.
After working as a teacher assistant for a decade, Girty decided to continue her education at Catawba College, attending classes at night and working full time.
Taylor and Girty are two of more than 60 teachers who will begin their teaching career in the district.
Overall, the school system has about 85 new teachers.
The district offered training for first-year teachers starting Monday. It includes a number of topics such as communication, student engagement and how to deal with bullying and harassment.
“This week our theme has been ‘Striving for Excellence,’ ” said Susan Heaggans, the district’s beginning teacher coordinator. “We have a lot of work to do, but we can make this a great year.”
New teachers received a warm welcome Wednesday during the breakfast hosted by the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce.
“We understand how important education is to this community in every way,” Chamber President Bob Wright said. “We wish you nothing but the best as you start your careers here in Rowan County.”
Teacher of the Year Sakinah Riley offered four pieces of advice to the newbies — learn hungrily, teach steadily, indulge freely and create uniquely.
“Education, would you agree, is the most important part of our society, just as breakfast is the most important part of the day,” she said. “It’s where your students literally break from virtual worlds, fragmented homes, peer pressure and reality shows. It’s where you fill their minds with much-needed awareness of personal finance and Wall Street or the Olympics and history.”
Riley told teachers Wednesday “should be the first day of the best profession anyone can pursue.”
“Each day is rewarding, each experience is new, each opportunity is priceless, each moment is monumental,” she said. “You will nourish your students and help them realize their full potential”
Taylor said she plans to do just that.
“I don’t want to be a regular chorus teacher,” she said. “I want to get my students up and interacting. … I want them to be excited to come to chorus, excited to learn about music.”
Girty said she plans to mold her teaching style around this quote from Benjamin Franklin: “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”
She said she’s happy to be able to stay at Koontz Elementary, where she’s worked as an assistant for the past two years.
“I had a couple of other job offers and I was getting ready to go to orientation when my school wanted to interview me for a position,” she said.
Bridgett Scott, a new math teacher at South Rowan High, said she had offers from other school systems as well, but held out for a spot as a Raider.
“I wanted to stay here in Rowan County,” said Scott.
Scott, a Statesville native, attended Catawba and completed her student teaching at West Rowan High.
Taylor said she vied for the spot at North Middle after hearing the former chorus teacher had retired.
“I had been talking to people about it all summer,” she said.
Rowan County native Brett Hatley said he got lucky when a job teaching physical education came open at East Rowan High, where he was already working as an assistant baseball coach.
Hatley, who has a degree from Catawba College, spent some time substituting before he landed a full-time gig.
Although the new teachers are a bit nervous, they’re all ready to get in front of the classroom.
“I have a little bit of the fear of the unknown about what’s going to happen,” Scott said. “But it’s super exciting to embark on a brand new adventure.
“This is something I think we’ve all wanted to do for a long time so that’s exciting.”
The freshman teachers said this week’s training has already helped ease some of those nerves.
“College prepares you, but they’ve actually been there so I feel like I know what to expect now,” Scott said.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.