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Seventh grade Baltimore County teacher Danielle MillerThe first day of school can be a confusing time for students and administrators, but even more so for rookie teachers straight out of college. That first year is when many decide whether they are cut out for a teaching career. According to the National Education Association, nearly half of all teachers quit the profession within the first five years. In this series, “Ms. Miller’s Class, Established 2013,” WYPR’s Gwendolyn Glenn occasionally checks in with Danielle Miller, a first-year, seventh-grade science teacher at Holabird Middle School in Baltimore County.

Ms. Miller's Classroom, Est. 2013, Part 2

Nearly half of all teachers quit the profession within the first five years, according to the National Education Association. But for Danielle Miller, a first-year, seventh-grade science teacher at Holabird Middle School, quitting is not an option. “Teaching is what I’m going to be doing for the rest of my life,” Miller said last week, at the halfway point of her rookie year. “I am definitely enjoying it.”

But that’s not to say that Miller has not had her share of challenges. She admits that the year has been a bit more hectic than she envisioned. “It is so busy, very stressful at times, I’m constantly working but I know in the end it will be worth it. It’s my first year so it’s supposed to be this busy,” she said.

On a recent day Miller walked down a hallway filled with students, many who were much taller than she. “When I first came, many of the students said, ‘Are you a teacher?’ Everyone thought I was a student,” she said. “But that has changed now that most of them know me.”

Miller made her way to the cafeteria, where she was picking up her fourth class of the day. This class was a bit smaller than most of her others because these students required more attention. “There are a lot of special education kids in this class,” she said. “They’re a good group of kids but a little challenging.” Miller had to reprimand the students several times as she led them down the hallway to her classroom. 

She appeared more confident and settled in than earlier this year. Evan Parker, a special education case manager co-teaches this class and one other one with Miller. He helps her keep the students on track as Miller leads the lesson. Parker said he thinks Miller is doing a great job overall, but said she needs to amplify her soft-spoken voice. “I told her driving to work, raise your voice because it’s hard with the long science classes to reach the back ,” Parker said. “I think she’s found her voice and the kids have picked up on that. At first it was all the same volume.”

Miller said she has practiced using different voice tones a few times while driving to work. “Yes, my teacher voice is developing slowly but surely. The kids know when I’ve reached my limit and they tend to back off. I didn’t know I could be as loud as I could.”

But even with Parker’s assistance, some of the students ignored Miller’s warnings about working quietly on a joint lesson. Two students were sent to the office after a disagreement and several others landed lunch detentions. Not all of Miller’s classes are as demanding as this one but she says discipline problems are a source of stress. “We’ve had a lot of behavior issues and getting the classroom management strategy down is definitely the biggest challenge so you gotta nip it in the bud,” Miller said.

According to Marjie McGarry, Miller’s department head, many first-year teachers struggle to deal with discipline issues. “The toughest part about being a new teacher is learning how to manage a classroom,” McGarry said. “She’s (Miller) improved a lot with her management. She’s one of the best first year teachers I’ve ever worked with.”

Praise aside, Miller says she still has areas that need improving, such as grading assignments. “Having things graded and handed back in a timely manner, I struggle with that and I have my week planned out but sometimes you have to make so many adjustments that it’s hard to know how each day will go,” Miller said.

But through it all, Miller’s attitude is positive because she says she has a lot of support from school administrators and she loves her job. “There’s nothing else I would rather be doing. There’s never a dull moment. I can’t wait to see what next year brings and the next four months.”

WYPR will check in with Miller from time-to-time as the year progresses.