Seasoned teachers mentor several new faces in Kansas school districts this year

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LEAWOOD, Kan. --  There are a lot of new faces in Kansas classrooms this year. Some school districts are seeing more first-year teachers than ever before, but they're getting some help.

Being a teacher is what Prairie Star Middle School teacher Shelby Tate has dreamed of all her life. Little did the 23-year-old Kansas State graduate know she'd have a full-time teaching spot less than a year after graduating from college.

Tate says she knows how fortunate she is.

“I love the classroom. I love the kids. That's really what drives me,” Tate said.

Young teachers are the norm in Blue Valley Schools. Every day, Tate meets with Trevor Goertzen, a full-time teaching mentor, who meets regularly with 15 new instructors around the district. Goertzen doesn't teach students anymore.

“I think of myself as a coach. I coach new teachers,” Goertzen said.

Blue Valley School District leaders say 170 new educators came on board for this school year, half of whom are just out of college, as young classroom leaders move into the place where more experienced teachers used to be.

“My goal is to let them know there's someone there to support them. For them to know they're not alone, and there's going to be an ally,” Goertzen said.

This program is unique because most Kansas districts use veteran teachers top serve as mentors. Blue Valley has two full-time teaching mentors, assigned to spend time coaching the district’s youngest teachers, many of whom were in college until a year ago.

Kelly Ott understands teacher turnover too well. She works in professional development with Blue Valley schools, and says the district owes this commitment to its young instructors.

“We are investing in our young staff. They're the future of our district. Making that investment is an easy decision,” Ott said.

Goertzen says young teachers ask him about everything from making classwork fun to time management. He says in the long run, their new enthusiasms are paying off for students.

The Turner Unified School District has a similar program, but it's supported by federal grant dollars. Other Kansas districts in the metro, such as DeSoto, Leavenworth and Olathe, have teacher mentoring programs, but those mentors also carry a full class load.