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First year fulfilling for new teacher

It isn't always easy for Angela Bolds, who last year left a higher-paying job to teach. But seeing kids get it is what matters.

Published May 17, 2004

[Times photo: Carrie Pratt]
First-year teacher Angela Bolds listens to a student's question as Nicole Falls, 13, works on an assignment.

LARGO - On a recent morning, all was quiet in Angela Bolds' classroom as students wrote algebra problems about a Boeing 767 and a praying mantis.

The calm classroom was a sign that Bolds, a novice teacher, had survived her first year teaching pre-algebra and algebra I honors at Fitzgerald Middle School.

Last fall, she was fresh from the private sector, armed with a strong discipline plan but a little disappointed with her students' knowledge of math.

Nine months later, she has learned to keep her expectations in check.

"Don't assume anything," said Bolds, who expects to be back in the classroom when school resumes in August. "Teach from the very basics."

Bolds has given up her idea of having students write reasons for their tardies. Instead, students stand facing the wall in the back of the room. When a class gets out of hand, she keeps them in their seats after the bell.

Consequences, she said. It's all about consequences.

Bolds, 37, is one of 109 teachers in the Pinellas School District who last year decided to move from the private sector into the classroom. Of those, only five have left the district, said Vicki Meredith, coordinator of the Transition to Teaching program.

A teacher shortage coupled with the rising age of some teachers are two reasons Pinellas school administrators created the Transition to Teaching program two years ago.

The program helps teachers, including Bolds, bypass college instruction, allowing them to obtain certification after a year in the classroom. The program provides training and evaluations and matches new teachers with veteran teachers and retired administrators.

It's a lot of work, but it beats the alternative. Because she loves what she's doing, Bolds feels less stress in the classroom than she did as an electrical engineer and programmer/analyst. A year ago, she was earning double the $31,000 entry-level salary teachers make in Pinellas. But the job wasn't fulfilling, she said.

It's fulfilling watching students learn. During a recent pre-algebra class, her lesson about proportions and scale came alive as she asked students to design their own room. They could draw anything they wanted, except a night club or bar. All they had to do was show how they arrived at their answers.

"You're going to have to think about the dimensions of accessories, and you're going to have to think about scale," Bolds said.

Their minds started to turn. A room that had been eerily quiet rustled to life. A few sketched out an idea of their room. Others offered ideas for what a dream room should include: refrigerators, hot tubs, even a tree.

They also had a few ideas about the shape of the room: diamond, trapezoidal and the traditional square. No problem, Bolds said, as long as everything in the room was in proportion and all math work was in place to show how they arrived at the answers.

The noise level rose.

"Thirty seconds," Bolds said. The noise continued. "Forty seconds."

The class fell back into silence.

"Come Thursday, I want to see some very creative designs," Bolds said.

The bell rang and some students stayed in their chairs as others walked to their next class. Bolds watched the second hand on her clock until 40 seconds had passed. To her students it felt like three minutes.

Her first year of teaching felt like it went by in about three minutes. When the winter holidays came, she was ready for a break. Bolds says it seemed it was just yesterday that she was first setting up her classroom. The walls look the same. They still espouse her feelings about achievement. "Attitude determines altitude," one states. "Respect is imperative," reads another.

But the room is set up differently. Seats on both sides of the room face each other, leaving a path for Bolds to travel down the middle of the room. She can see all the students and can get to them quickly if they have a question or she needs to pounce on some unacceptable behavior.

She doesn't see much of that. When asked about a low point in the year, she talked about parents, not students. Parents told her it was her fault their child was failing. It was her fault their child didn't participate in class.

As a result, Bolds is devising a way to communicate with parents and figure out what they expect from her. Some parents want her to call them; others don't. The high points - when students get it, really get it - were easier to accept.

Recently she was teaching the honors algebra class how to solve quadratic equations by completing the square. She worked a few problems with her students when Timmy Baldwin, blurted out: "That's much easier."

"Just that comment lets me know how much you've learned this year," Bolds said.

Overall, Bolds gives herself a B for her first year of teaching, readily admitting she has a lot of work to do during the summer.

Though her students said their new teacher is strict, they say she isn't mean, and give her good grades.

"She's my favorite teacher," said Stephanie Kehoe, 13. "I actually enjoy going to math class now. I used to dread it."

Baldwin, the student who had the light bulb moment, agreed.

"She's awesome," the 14-year-old said. "At the beginning of the year, I didn't like algebra. This six weeks I'm getting better at it." He gave his teacher the same grade she gave herself: a B.

[Last modified May 16, 2004, 23:30:17]

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