When Elcuiana Hawkins joined the third grade team at Ponderosa Elementary School this year as a brand-new science and math teacher, she knew she would have a lot to learn, and fast.
That’s why Hawkins – now in her final year of an alternative certification program after earning a degree in management – is glad to be part of Spring ISD’s New Teacher Mentorship Program.
“I think it’s very helpful, because it gives you a guide,” said Hawkins, who has been paired with Ponderosa Elementary School third-grade teacher Nadia Bazan as her mentor. “So when you think that you’re not making it, you know, maybe that person can help you and encourage you and then guide you in the right direction.”
The program, which kicked off during a special event Monday at Spring ISD’s Planet Ford Stadium facility, pairs the district’s newest teachers with more experienced educators to serve as dedicated mentors during their first year in the classroom.
Hawkins is one of approximately 140 new teachers joining Spring ISD for the 2021-22 school year, and the district is providing the revamped mentorship program to offer added layers of support and guidance for those new to the profession.
Each new teacher in the program is paired with an experienced educator on their home campus. Mentors are hand-selected by principals for their track record of success, and both the new teachers and their mentors will receive ongoing professional training and support from Spring ISD’s Workforce Development department throughout the year.
“We’re going to make sure we’re very strategic in providing our new teachers support, and we’re going to be very intentional about it,” said Dr. LaTracy Harris, the district’s director of elementary leadership development.
During her remarks at Monday’s event, Harris noted the fact that as many as 15% of new teachers leave the profession after their first year – while nearly as many again leave their first campus or school district – often because they don’t get the support they need. With strong mentors in place, Harris told the group, new teacher retention rates go up to 92% – a statistic that is driving Spring ISD to do all it can to help new teachers thrive.
“We’re not going to leave it up to chance,” Harris said, “because we want our new teachers to be successful. So in order to do that, we know that we have to provide that support.”
Cooper Elementary School art teacher Jaime David – now in her eighth year at the school – attended the kick-off event together with her mentee, new music teacher Chrissy Humphrey, and another new member of Cooper’s faculty, first-year gym teacher Megan Collins. After the kick-off event, the three took advantage of a few extra minutes of team planning time before heading home for the evening.
“It’s a lot of togetherness,” David said, laughing, “and it’s not me just telling them what to do. It’s a lot of problem-solving together.”
David said that the bonds being formed through the mentorship program were good for everyone involved, especially as teachers across the district help many students tackle the challenges of returning to the classroom after more than a year of virtual learning.
“It’s new for all of us,” David said. “It’s new for me, too, so we’re working together, because this is new for everyone. The social-emotional learning is definitely a high priority right now.”
Humphrey said she was excited to be learning lessons from fellow music teachers on other Spring ISD campuses, but also that collaborating with David and others on her own campus had given her more confidence as a first-year teacher serving the Cooper community.
“We get together a lot to talk about what we can do with the kids, how we can help them,” Humphrey said. “It’s good to hear from somebody that has been doing it for a few years. And she’s even come to us a few times and been like, ‘Okay, I need some fresh takes!’”
Collins also expressed gratitude for the mentorship program, together with the strong feeling of collegiality at the campus, beginning with Cooper Principal Mayra Garcia.
“I feel that I got lucky, because as a new teacher, you’re scared. You don’t know what you’re walking into,” Collins said. “I love our principal, she’s amazing, and our assistant principal. At our school, you feel like a family, kind of, and everybody’s been very open, so I just feel like I can talk to anybody at the school. Sure, we have our problems, but we have each other, and we’re figuring it out.”
As the new teachers and their mentors headed home after the kick-off event had ended, Spring ISD Executive Director of Professional Development Deeone McKeithan said that creative collaborations like the one at Cooper between David, Humphrey and Collins would not only help ensure the success of new teachers, but also support the district’s goal of reaching every student.
“We know that mentorship is critical to success as a teacher, especially a brand-new teacher,” said McKeithan, “and we want our new teachers to know that we’re here supporting them. We believe that, as we help our new teachers to grow, our students will be the benefactors.”