First-year teachers find themselves prepared thanks to their McDaniel education
Adaptability, flexibility, and problem-solving skills are all traits McDaniel College has instilled into recent alumni who have begun their first year of teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly all of those who graduated with either a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education or a Secondary Education minor or who earned a master’s degree in Teaching as part of the Class of 2020 secured teaching positions this fall.
Adaptability, flexibility, and problem-solving skills are all traits McDaniel College has instilled into recent alumni who have begun their first year of teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic.
These first-year educators are facing a variety of scenarios. Some are teaching entirely in the classroom with new safety protocols like masks and social distancing. Others have adapted to a virtual mode of instruction. Then, there are teachers who are balancing a combination of the two through a hybrid model.
“My time at McDaniel helped me to become more flexible, adaptable, and a creative problem solver, which are skills I have definitely used as a virtual teacher,” said Montgomery County Public Schools teacher Madeline Wodaski ’20. “Specifically, through McDaniel's Education Department, I learned how to advocate for myself, meet students where they are, and differentiate instruction for a variety of learners, which has been incredibly important for me as a teacher at Montgomery Village Middle School.”
Wodaski is one of more than 30 alumni from the Class of 2020 who secured teaching positions this fall. Nearly all of those who graduated with either a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education or a Secondary Education minor or who earned a master’s degree in Teaching found employment in their chosen career.
According to Robin Townsend ‘75, coordinator of McDaniel’s Teacher Professional Development, “It really was an incredible year despite the pandemic. I wasn’t sure how hiring would go, but we had almost 50% of our Education students hired by school systems even before they graduated in May. It is a true testament to the quality and value of a McDaniel Education degree.”
From taking students on virtual field trips to discussing the symbol the superhero film “Black Panther” has created, Howard County Public Schools teacher Irma Murhutta ‘20 has strived to create memorable experiences for students in her virtual classroom. Murhutta, a Teachers for Tomorrow scholarship recipient, earned a bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in Secondary Education.
“Overall, my experience at McDaniel College has taught me to be open-minded and to think outside of the box,” said Murhutta, who teaches sixth grade at Lake Elkhorn Middle School. “If I can think outside of the box to create a unique experience for the students in my virtual classroom, they may acquire more knowledge than what the curriculum requires them to.”
Carroll County Public Schools teacher Rose Sparks ‘20 started her first year of teaching in a hybrid setting, meaning she sees students four days a week in person while simultaneously teaching virtually.
“I’ve learned to trust my students – they are trying so hard and have such good ideas,” said Sparks, a sixth-grade teacher at East Middle School who majored in English with a minor in Secondary Education. “I do my best to work with them, so that we can all grow through this rough time in history.”
Transitioning into this new learning environment has been tough, but Sparks said she is grateful that she came to McDaniel as a transfer student, which has given her the necessary skills to acclimate to rapid changes.
As a physical education teacher at Montgomery County Public Schools, Gabrielle Yore ’18, M.S. ’20 also had to weigh a lot of factors when teaching in a virtual setting, especially for students to get as much as movement in without relying on equipment. Yore earned a bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology in 2018 and a master’s degree in Teaching, Pre-Kindergarten-Grade 12, in 2020.
“Teaching virtually is nothing anyone would have ever expected,” said Yore, who teaches at Col. E. Brooke Lee Middle School. “I know I was fully prepared for teaching in person. I think for virtual learning you have to be open-minded, prepare for the unexpected, and collaborate, which are all things McDaniel taught me.”
Versatility is nothing new to teachers, according to Jamie Wimmer ‘20, a fifth-grade Carroll County Public Schools teacher at Linton Springs Elementary School.
“Teachers are used to flexibility and thinking on their feet, but this COVID-19 world has really taught us to reinvent our idea of flexibility,” added Wimmer, who obtained a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education.
When teaching in a hybrid model, Wimmer has become more understanding with technology issues arising.
“I also have learned how resilient these kids are,” Wimmer said. “They are still so excited to come to school, to share stories of things that made them smile over the weekend, and to check in with each other.”
Howard County Public Schools teacher Nicolette Brookman ’20, who graduated as an English major and Secondary Education minor, has learned that students need structure during this time.
“Especially in a time where school and the rest of the world look so different from what they are used to, they need consistent structure and expectations in order to help them manage their time and find a sense of routine and productivity,” said Brookman, who teaches 10th and 11th grades at Wilde Lake High School.
When schools in Maryland operated virtually in the spring semester, Murhutta said her student teaching experience was “the greatest head-start” with what she has been able to implement online this fall.
Murhutta said she learned how to create PowerPoint presentations designed to engage students through online platforms.
Wodaski, who earned a bachelor’s degree in Political Science with a minor in Secondary Education, also learned from her virtual student teaching experience.
“I think that I am lucky as a first-year teacher to be faced with teaching in a COVID-19 world because I don't have full-time teacher experience in the classroom,” Wodaski said. “Instead of having to change all of the resources I already created, I am able to start from the beginning with lessons intended for virtual teaching. This has made the adjustment to virtual teaching a lot easier.”
Other Class of 2020 graduates are teaching throughout the State of Maryland in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Dorchester, Frederick, Harford, Howard, and Montgomery counties, as well as New York, Vermont, Virginia, and even Thailand.