08/18/11 — Assistants moving up to fill Wayne teacher ranks

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Assistants moving up to fill Wayne teacher ranks

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 18, 2011 1:46 PM

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For 21 years Mary Jo Sauls was a teacher's assistant at Norwayne Middle School. This year, after achieving her degree in Special Education K-12 and Elementary Education K-6, she returns to the school as a teacher. Like many educators around the county, she reported to work on Wednesday. Students at most of the county schools start classes on Aug. 25.

Mary Jo Sauls became a teacher assistant when her own children started school, drawn to a schedule that allowed her to be home with them during the summer.

"I thought it was only going to be a temporary thing. When they got older, I would do something different," she said.

Instead, she wound up doing the job at Norwayne Middle School for 21 years.

She has always enjoyed being part of the school environment, she admits.

So when she learned of an opportunity to advance in the profession -- through Wachovia Partnership East, providing teacher credentialing from East Carolina University at nearby Wayne Community College -- she jumped at the chance.

"Both kids had graduated, I could do this at home, online," she explained.

Teaching was a wistful dream, an unanswered question posed by those under her tutelage.

"I taught Sunday school, I still teach Sunday school," she explained. "For many years, I had kids ask, 'Ms. Sauls, why don't you teach?' That's in the back of your mind."

It took her six years, as she continued to work full time while taking classes, but she completed her degree in June.

When students show up next week for another school year at Norwayne, they'll again find Mrs. Sauls, only now she's a full-fledged educator. She will work with a special education inclusion group of sixth- and seventh-graders, she said.

"I'm very excited, for getting paid for what I have been doing all along," she said. "I will be more accessible because my name's on it as far as the work end of it."

Melody Baird had worked in computer programming before becoming a teacher's assistant when, at age 40, she was going through a divorce.

"My youngest son was starting school. I started as a teacher's assistant across the hall from him," she said, in part to keep an eye on how he was doing during the family's upheaval.

She quickly realized how much she enjoyed it. So in 2005, she enrolled in the Partnership East program. She graduated five years later, in Dec. 2010.

"I was a TA for nine years," she said. "I was 49 when I graduated from college."

She's already had one semester under her belt and as she prepares for her role as kindergarten teacher at Spring Creek Elementary, has some idea of what's ahead.

"It's the best thing in the world," she said. "Every time I think about it, I just start smiling. It's exactly what I thought it would be and even better most days."

This will be a "bumper crop year" for instructional assistants becoming teachers, with 19 in that category, said Marvin McCoy, assistant superintendent for human resources services.

In recent years, he said, more efforts have been made to encourage those in a support role to consider pursuing teacher certification.

"Then you can get paid for something you're already doing," he explained, adding, "This is the harvest, the benefit for us, actually. They're the ones that are able to fill some vacancies and now they're teachers."

Not all teachers new to the district came directly from the assistant pool, though.

Some worked in other capacities in the school system, while others found themselves unexpectedly pursuing a career in the classroom.

Brenda Elam-Coney moved to North Carolina in 1997 and worked in the district's finance department from 1998 until Jan. 2011. She returned to school for an associate's degree, graduating from Wayne Community College in 2007, then received a bachelor's degree in business administration from Mount Olive College in Aug. 2010.

After obtaining her teaching license, she started at Dillard Middle School in January, where she continues this fall to teach Title I math enrichment.

Her background as a church youth worker made her realize early on the value of being a teacher.

"You know how you can make a difference and impact children," she said. "You see those lights, their eyes light up and you know it was successful."

Joi Hood also worked in the finance department. She had started college directly out of high school but other things interrupted -- finances, getting married, raising a family. In 2008, she went back for her degree in early childhood education, graduating from MOC in May 2011.

The mother of two -- an 18-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter -- said it was her goal to graduate before her son. And she made it, by one month.

She now embarks on becoming a first grade teacher at Carver Heights Elementary School, feeling "excited" and even more confident after the district's recent 10-day new teacher training program.

"I'm just looking forward to the best school year ever," she said of the upcoming "year of firsts -- first students I'll have ... just making sure that I leave a lasting impression on them."

Allison Howland and Shawn McGuire can credit their spouses, both teachers, with bringing them to the profession.

Mrs. Howland, originally from Ann Arbor, Michigan, relocated to Wayne County with her husband, Jacob, a fifth-grade teacher at Greenwood Middle.

"My husband's probably been a good influence on me," she says now, admitting she formerly struggled over a career path.

She initially had "no plan of teaching," but then completed her college degree in Spanish from Michigan State University. She was hired as a Spanish interpreter at Grantham School and this fall will teach the language at Rosewood High.

"Other than being a student myself, this is my first exposure to the education world and I'm really just diving in head first," she said. "I'm really looking forward to creating relationships with students. I'm excited to be with that age group but also create relevance for them."

McGuire likewise had never envisioned becoming an educator. The geology major had worked in the natural gas field, an area where salaries are much more lucrative.

"I was making double in the oil field," he said, "but I realize here I can make a change. Everything I do to impact the kids, that's why you do it. I know what I did with them, they're going to pass on."

McGuire was hired to work at Southern Wayne High School last semester and returns this fall to teach physical science, Earth science and honors Earth science.

"I'm looking forward to a lot," he said. "Students are changing, so the teachers need to change with them."