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NEW TEACHERS SETTLE IN, PREPARE FOR CHALLENGE
SOME HAD WORKED
IN THE SUBURBS

Kathleen McMahon waited nearly 15 years to have a room of her own, and she wanted it to feel like home.

So on Friday morning, she did a little polishing and a little rearranging in her third-floor classroom at School 77 on Normal Avenue, all the while taking in her new assignment with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

"I'm excited," said Mrs. McMahon, who spent 14 years earning her college and master's degrees while raising four children, and calls her teaching career "a whole new adventure for me."

Although she has been a teaching assistant in West Seneca, and she just finished teaching a summer reading program there, she has never been in charge of her own classroom as a full-time teacher. She resigned her West Seneca job after learning Tuesday that she had an offer from Buffalo. She starts her new career as a third-grade teacher Wednesday at age 49.

Mrs. McMahon is one of an estimated 200 new teachers who will start in the Buffalo School District this year. Most of them already worked in the district as temporary teachers or substitutes.

But others, like Mrs. McMahon, are coming to Buffalo for the first time. Some are new to the profession, and others left comfortable jobs in suburban systems or private schools for the challenges of an urban district.

District officials who worked on the hiring and selection process have said it is difficult to categorize these first-timers, for they come from so many different backgrounds and experiences. A common theme through their remarks is the desire to teach where they feel most needed.

Cindy Maciolek, 25, grew up in Buffalo. A product of private schools, she graduated from Buffalo State College in 1996 with dual certification in special and elementary education. She was teaching in a Catholic school in Tonawanda before coming to Buffalo, and said her Catholic upbringing instilled in her a sense of social action.

"When I was doing my student teaching, I wanted to come to the inner city," Ms. Maciolek said. "I wanted to go to an area where maybe the children didn't have as much as other areas. I wanted to be able to give something to the city I grew up in."

Ms. Maciolek will be teaching 15 special education students, ages 9 to 12. As a white woman, coming from a comfortable middle-class background, she realizes the families of her students may at first view her as eager, young and unable to understand their lives.

"I think it will take them a while to accept me," she said. "I think they may think, 'You're going to come here to change things.' I think it may take time before they're able to accept me and appreciate what I do. I'm willing to wait that time."

A willingness to wait hasn't been a problem for the new teachers. Hiring didn't begin until Aug. 26, after an eight-month selection process that suffered unexpected delays and glitches. Some members of the Buffalo Board of Education were concerned that top candidates would go elsewhere. But if the experience of Susan Bassity is any example, the district was able to lure some applicants away from competitive offers.

"I actually had three job offers, but I took this one," said Ms. Bassity, who moved from Waddington, about 150 miles north of Syracuse, to start as special education teacher at School 90. Her husband is starting a physician's assistant training program here, and Ms. Bassity could have taken a job at either of two private agencies providing specialized educational services to children.

The beginning of the school year grew closer, and Ms. Bassity knew she would have to make a decision soon on one of those other offers. On Tuesday, she learned that she had a job in the Buffalo district.

Ms. Bassity is 49, and, like Mrs. McMahon, entered teaching after raising her four children. She has a decade of experience in Head Start, in a program for at-risk high school students, and in special education. Although she did not cite her salary, the offer from Buffalo was "more than competitive."

The work itself was appealing, offering her an opportunity to get to know her students' families and develop a rapport with them.

"I really like working with families," she said. "I like working with parents. The school district seems to feel pretty strongly about working with parents, which is good."

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