By Amanda Costikyan Jones
COLUMBIA – Josh Cramer starts his second-period class by pulling out a single pink long-stemmed rose.
“It’s a Safeway special,” he jokes, before giving the students in his 10th-grade English class at Wilde Lake High School their assignment — list things a rose could symbolize.
The five girls and six boys settle down, take out their notebooks and get to work. After a couple of minutes, Cramer stops them and begins to fill the board with their ideas: femininity, love, purity, friendship, tragedy.
By the end of second period, the students, who are in Wilde Lake’s middle academic track, have applied their ideas to William Blake’s poem “The Sick Rose” and discussed examples of symbolism in William Golding’s “The Lord of the Flies.”
The bell rings and Cramer is off to his next class, pushing a cart down the hall. He has to be resourceful enough to carry everything he needs for the day, because he is a “floater,” a teacher without a room of his own.
Policy makers who want to get rid of “provisional” teachers probably do not have teachers like Josh Cramer in mind. The idea is to eliminate truly unqualified teachers.
But if provisional teachers are banned, people like Josh Cramer will be yanked out of Maryland classrooms too.
Cramer, 23, was surprised to learn that the state classifies him in the same category as teachers with no training at all. A provisional certificate can be granted to anyone with a bachelor’s degree in any field.
Cramer has a degree in secondary English education from Duquesne University and is fully certified in Pennsylvania. He didn’t learn that he had been labeled “provisional” by Maryland until several weeks into the school year.
“They say I have to take one of the (teacher certification tests) again,” said Cramer, who said he took the same test in Pennsylvania and scored at the 95th percentile.
“I love this (Howard County) system,” he said. “I just want to emphasize my confusion and shock at the (state) requirement … I thought I had filled.”
While Cramer’s situation is unusual, it is not unique. He said he knows two other teachers on Wilde Lake’s faculty of about 100 who have exactly the same problem.
“Oh, he’s doing a great job,” said Wilde Lake Principal Roger Plunkett. “The most important thing is he has the enthusiasm.”
Plunkett said he is not concerned about Cramer’s certification status, since he knows Cramer is an outstanding teacher who will be fully certified soon.
But he said he “definitely” believes provisional certification should be eliminated.
Plunkett said he has visited “a number of schools where the majority of teachers were on provisional certificates, and it’s so obvious. And we want to make sure that does not become the norm.”
Teachers like Cramer, he said, should simply complete the state requirements as quickly as possible so they can remain in the classroom.
Cramer plans to do just that. He said he will retake the test next month despite the cost and inconvenience. He loves his job too much to risk it over a bureaucratic snag, he said.
Third period, Cramer has 17 students. This time the class discussion touches on some of the trauma of being young in the ’90s.
The rose in the poem, one girl suggests, is a young man’s life. The “invisible worm” destroying it is AIDS. She extends the analogy, analyzing the poem line by line.
“That’s great!” says Cramer, enthusing about the perfect fit between the words of the poem and the disease that appeared hundreds of years after it was written.
“See?” he asks the class. “That’s the power of poetry.”