Spring Branch ISD program pairs 1st-year teachers with veterans to tackle new challenges

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Friday, August 18, 2023
Spring Branch ISD launches teacher mentorship program tackling retention challenges
The program is intended to help first-year teachers stay confident and prepared. But, veteran teachers have also found themselves learning new things from the newbies.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Spring Branch ISD has found an answer to the teacher retention challenge facing many school districts.

In Spring Branch ISD, all first-year teachers are paired with a veteran who coaches them during weekly meetings and special instruction sessions throughout the year.

Gabriella Montejo is confident and prepared starting the new year teaching history at Northbrook High, and part of the credit goes to 33-year teaching veteran Susan Howard, who mentored Montejo last year during her first year on the job.

"I'm very grateful for the structure that she showed me. To be able to have that structure in my class, to make that transition a little easier for me when it came to my first year, and Ms. Howard really helped me feel comfortable to voice what I wanted to do and not be intimidated or brought down by anybody," Montejo said. "I couldn't have asked for a better mentor in all honesty."

Howard said the partnership is benefitting her too.

"It's also an avenue for older teachers to stay young, I would say. New teachers are more willing to try new things. I've done some things that I saw her do in class," Howard said.

Lynda Maxwell who is in the SBISD Human Resources office runs the mentorship program, which was relaunched in the district four years ago. At the time, their retention rate was 83%. Now, it is 91%.

"We're excited about that, but we've seen other kinds of results. We've seen teachers who are developing so much faster because of that special relationship with a mentor teacher and who are able to understand their students a little bit earlier and quicker than they might if they were doing it completely on their own," Maxwell said. "We do a lot of work with our new teachers in classroom management, which is an important piece in your first year. And then we do a lot of time with our mentors, and having a coaching relationship with their new teacher so that new teachers can learn to problem solve their issues and work through things on their own. I think that builds confidence, and I think that leads to retention and happiness in the job."

First-year teacher Margaret Frandina will be working with 11-year teaching veteran Kallie Parria at Hunter's Creek Elementary School this year. Last year, while attending Texas Christian University, Frandina was a student-teacher here, but now, it's her turn to lead the third grade class.

"I want her to have someone to trust and really listen to her. I mean, we have days all the time where we just want to go vent to someone," Parria said.

Frandina agrees and is excited to have someone to talk to.

"It's going to be nice to talk through it with her. I feel like we've already begun building that relationship together," she said.

Both are already completing each other's sentences, starting a bond that will benefit them and their students.

Back at Northbrook High, we are reminded what mentorship can mean to a new teacher's passion for the job, and career path.

"I think Gabriela is awesome. We were very lucky to get her on campus. She's awesome with the kids, and definitely think she is headed for teacher of the year," Howard said.

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