Transitioning into Teaching As A Career Changer

In the Spring Semester of 2022 Anne Winters, Associate Clinical Project Specialist, conducted interviews with two Frostburg State University students, four student government members, and Frostburg’s Senior Associate Athletic Director. She discussed with them how the social, environmental, and Covid-19 pandemic has impacted their careers, school-life balance, and their ability to mitigate and navigate the challenges that have arisen during the pandemics. In the following pages you will hear from Sydney Kerns, a student in Frostburg’s MAT-Secondary program, Dionne Pellew, an MAT-Elementary graduate, four individual members from Frostburg’s Student Government Association, and Rubin Stevenson, The Senior Associate Athletic Director.

Anne Winters: First off, I want to thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to sit down with me virtually. Can you tell me a little bit about your background?

Dionne Pellew: I was born in Guyana, South America. Elementary Education was not my original choice as a career path, my original degree was in History from Oakwood University in Huntsville, AL.

Anne: Was it an easy transition for you to move from Guyana to the US as a child?

Dionne: No, it was not at all. I came from a background where there was so much inclusion within my household, my neighborhood, and our school. When I came here, I was surprised to see that the kids in American schools were separated into groups. I simply couldn’t understand why they were separated. If I went to attempt to include myself into one of the groups, I was looked at like I was either crazy or that I did not belong there. It was definitely not an easy transition.

Anne: It is baffling how Americans seem to rely on this system of grouping, it is sad that we find ourselves separating from one another on the smallest of issues. Coming from South America moving to the United States, you have experienced the ups and downs of gun violence and social ills against people of color. Do you feel as if the pandemic has increased these events?

Dionne: I don’t necessarily think that there is an increase in violence against people of color. I think that social media and everyone having cell phones has brought these events into light. Yes, there is a history of violence and social ills against many groups of Americans to varying degrees. When the Covid pandemic hit, everyone was mandated to stay home and had an opportunity to stand still and witness these events firsthand. I believe that without the pandemic; these events would have been on the news but not to the magnitude we have experienced. I believe in showing empathy as well as treating everyone with dignity and respect, regardless of their background.

Anne: It seems as if the world and our nation are preparing for the end of the Covid-19 pandemic, do you feel like life is back to normal at Walkersville Elementary?

Dionne: I feel as though I am in the middle on this issue. I have seen some progression on those wanting to move away from the masks, but also have seen a rise of students being tested

positive for Covid-19, which is scary. My personal view is that we need to keep these masks on until we can see the pandemic truly ending. Everyday there is new research and new strains being discovered. I do see that we are in the middle with students, teachers, and parents coming away from the mask wearing; but I don’t think we are quite there yet.

Anne: How about safety in regard to exposure, do you feel safer now in Walkersville than you did in the beginning of the pandemic?

Dionne: I think I feel less safe than I was in the beginning due to the class sizing restrictions being adjusted. The class I am currently in just increased to 27 students. The desks are too close together. Originally, we were required to place the student’s desks 6 feet apart, then that spacing was reduced to 3 feet. Now, there seems to be no restrictions regarding where our children’s desks are to be placed. I noticed an increase in Covid-19 exposure among students and staff, this scares me. Also, I would really like to advocate for smaller classroom sizes. I believed in this pre-Covid. Within the public school system, I am concerned about the classroom sizes. The classroom sizes are just too large, to provide differentiated instruction and meet students’ needs, classroom sizes should be smaller.

Anne: Does Frederick County offer any sort of virtual or hybrid learning environment for the students at the moment?

Dionne: Not that I am aware, I know that when a child tests positive for Covid-19 they do need to attend virtually, but it is instead pre-recorded instruction that the student needs to watch with their parents. After the quarantine time period has ended, they will then return to the classroom and turn in the work from those virtual sessions.

Anne: Do you currently you have any virtual or hybrid courses at the FSU USMH campus for the MAT-E program?

Dionne: I have had a hybrid experience throughout the past year, I have participated in face-to-face classes with Dr. McGee as well as virtual. I think there is a difference in the learning environment, but I would prefer the virtual option. I notice that a lot of other students tend to pull their mask down when speaking, out of habit, and I am very big on being clean. Even before the pandemic I was constantly sanitizing. I sanitize my desk and wear gloves; I realize that people do not wash their hands properly and, in the classroom, setting you end up sharing materials so I would definitely prefer a virtual setting if there was an option.

Anne: In terms of your mentor teacher and your program coordinator, Dr. McGee, do you feel as if they have been sensitive to your life and how it has needed to change during the pandemic? Have they been open to your ideas and understanding?

Dionne: Dr. McGee is kind, respectful, and understanding. She cares about everyone in the MAT-E program and want us all to succeed. I absolutely love Dr. McGee; she understands how intense this program is and provides guidance and support. She is extremely sensitive to changes in my life during the pandemic. She understands why I sanitize my desk and have my own supplies. She is also very responsive, even on her cell phone after hours. My mentor, Ms. Fox, is consistently kind and supportive. From my initial email this previous summer when I introduced myself, I immediately felt her warm welcome. After meeting her in person, my initial view/feeling of her remained. She is an excellent mentor to me and teacher to the students in her classroom. She has truly guided me through my internship with lesson planning, classroom management, assessments, and provided opportunities for me to learn and grow. If I make a mistake she supports and encourages me.

Anne: I remember from listening to you speak at the Maryland Accelerates’ Executive Advisory Board Meeting that your main goal is to become the teacher of record. In terms of your career how has it shaped you to want to become a teacher?

Dionne: Growing up, I loved history due to my experience with my social studies teacher in middle school, she was engaging, and I fell in love with how she taught. I decided to major in History in college but was unsure of how this degree would transition to a career. I initially decided to pursue teaching History in middle school, but after one week of interning I knew that this career path was not for me.

Throughout the years I have worked as a secretary at a law firm and even owned my own daycare center. It was not until recently that I finally decided to pursue my career goals and found the Maryland Accelerates Program. In 2021, I started taking classes towards my degree and now am on my way to becoming a certified teacher.