By Dave DeFusco
Jess Lee remembers the moment she knew she wanted to become a teacher. She was an intern at Travilah Elementary School in Gaithersburg, teaching basic division to a fourth-grader struggling with math. After much patience, persistence and practice, he learned how to do it on his own.
“He looked at me and said, ‘Miss Lee, can you be our teacher?’ At that moment, it clicked for me,” she said. “That he found potential in me was just the reassurance I needed to commit to becoming a teacher. We learn just as much from them as they do from us.”
Five years after that internship, Jess will graduate this month with a Master of Arts in Teaching degree from the Johns Hopkins School of Education. In recognition of her outstanding work, she was recently named a Maryland Teacher of Promise and has committed to teaching in the Baltimore City schools.
She has spent the last two semesters interning at Patterson Park Public Charter School, creating lesson plans, discussing student progress with parents, utilizing proven classroom management techniques and participating in professional development workshops.
“The advantage of the MAT program is that you get more than 100 days of internship experience at a partnership school,” she said.
A graduate of the University of Maryland-Baltimore County with a degree in modern languages and linguistics, Jess said her fluency in Spanish facilitated a close relationship with her first-grade students at Patterson Park, the majority of which are Spanish-speaking.
“My students felt more included in class and that their culture was validated,” she said. “That helped when I had to get their attention.”
In the fall, she was given full responsibility for her first-grade classroom for two weeks under the watchful eye of her mentor Cathie Weber, an adjunct faculty member at the School of Education and university supervisor of the MAT program, and this spring managed an entire classroom of third-graders. She learned valuable lessons for being prepared, making lessons fun and engaging, and making sure the students respected her.
Jess described Weber as an “amazing supervisor and mentor.” “She’s always there for us and puts a smile on our face,” she said.
Mary Ellen Beaty-O’Ferrall, an associate professor in the MAT program, said, “The fact that our candidates teach for a full month in the spring and have two opportunities to teach on their own sets our program apart from others.”
The Maryland Teachers of Promise program is intended to keep graduates of teacher preparation programs in the state of Maryland. The program pairs them with a mentor—teachers who themselves have won a teacher of the year award either for their county or the state.
Jess, who had a comfortable upbringing in Montgomery County, said she was ambivalent at first about teaching in city schools, but realized during her internships that school for many city students is a refuge.
“They look forward to what you have to teach. They appreciate every little thing you do for them,” she said. “That gratitude, love and appreciation for me as their teacher made me want to teach here.”