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Teaching made fun through mentor program

Teaching is more challenging than it has ever been, highly scrutinized by administrators, parents and others.

Thirteen years ago, because of increasing difficulties and cumbersome paperwork, many new teachers were leaving the profession for greener pastures.

About that time the Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment program was established statewide. Five years ago the Merced Union High School District adopted a BTSA program to keep new teachers in the fold. It has resulted in more instructors staying in the classroom. And it has led once-weary teachers to say they love their jobs.

New teachers spend two years with the BTSA program to get a full credential. So far 138 teachers have gone through the program.

Mentor instructor-coach Phil Schiber said stress and demands have increased in the teaching profession. "Our job is to provide support," Schiber said. "You get a chance to interact with new teachers and share experiences. You see a result of your work."

Schiber has been teaching for 30 years, five of them with the BTSA program. A former agriculture and special education teacher, he works with new teachers at Atwater and Livingston high schools.

There are precise ways of teaching now, Schiber said, and the integration of technology within the classroom has grown markedly in the past 10 years. "Not everybody who comes to us is designed to be a teacher," Schiber said. "We had some who needed to do something different. Teachers are being asked to do more than they ever have been. How can we make that easier?"

Schiber said he spends a minimum of an hour a week with each new teacher; on average he consults with each teacher about two or three hours weekly.

BTSA monitors can't hire or fire; their duties are to provide on-the-job support and help new teachers apply what they've learned in their new roles.

Debbie Long is the district's BTSA coordinator and the teacher mentor at Golden Valley High School. A teacher for 24 years, she said teaching is an isolated experience and whenever you mentor you open the door to collaboration.

Long said everybody has a different learning curve; now they are seeing newer teachers doing things in the classroom that the veteran teachers routinely do. She said BTSA mentors help develop habits that carry through an educator's career.

Long said the high school district's teacher retention rate is 20 percent higher than the state average. The district's BTSA program just received its first-ever seven-year accreditation from the Commission on Teacher Credentialing, after a three-day visit from out-of-the-area educators in May.

Victoria Gouveia, a math teacher at Golden Valley, lauds the BTSA program. "I love my job and I know that a big reason for that is because of the training received from you all," Gouveia said. "Thank you and continue to know that there are many of us who believe this was the best program we were involved in."

Ken Hanf is a mentor teacher at Buhach Colony, East Campus and Golden Valley high schools. He has been in the classroom more than 18 years and with BTSA for four years. "Our goal is to accelerate teacher development and ultimately to facilitate student success," Hanf said. "I enjoy collaborating with other teachers; we both grow through the process and I enjoy the give and take."

Hanf said the mentor job can be challenging. "We are teachers on special assignment," Hanf said. "I think teachers are very dedicated and I wanted to be a positive role model. We want teachers to be successful. Through our work with teachers we want to impact students. When teachers share strategies and ideas, ultimately students win."

Merced Adult School teacher Carol Rung also praises the BTSA program. "As a new teacher, the BTSA program completely opened my eyes to the purpose of using strategies and collaboration for engaging a diverse classroom while being a participatory learner."

Schiber said mentor teachers help develop state-of-the-art strategies to meet the needs of the modern classroom and are a resource to other teachers. He believes new teachers are coming to the classroom much better prepared than in the past.

Atwater High School Principal Alan Peterson said BTSA has helped the school create "a culture of continuous improvement.

"The BTSA program in our district is outstanding," Peterson said. "We simply would not be where we are today without it. Our beginning teachers get the training and support they need from experienced, well-trained mentors."

At a recent district awards night, the BTSA mentors got the Superintendent's Award for moving instruction and academic performance forward.

Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dyawger@mercedsun-star.com.

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