Retaining teachers is something the Brainerd School District is succeeding in while other school districts in the state and the nation are struggling.
In the Brainerd School District, 79 percent of the teachers who began their career in Brainerd are still teaching in the school district, said Loretta Norgon, Brainerd Teacher Support System coordinator. The state average is 58 percent.
Norgon updated the Brainerd School Board Monday on the BTSS teacher induction mentor program that started in the 1995-96 school year. The program, which is partially funded through grants, began to help retain teachers in the district and to have a more formal training process.
"The first three years are the most critical and is when most teachers leave the profession," said Norgon.
New teachers go through the three-year mentoring program with class assessments, support, training and help from veteran teachers. Teachers attend seminars and create a professional portfolio.
Tracy Suska, a first-grade teacher at Lowell Elementary School, started her teaching career in Brainerd this school year. She was a student intern in Brainerd's Lincoln Elementary School the previous school year.
Suska's mentors are Karen Hermanson and Sharon Jendro, first-grade teachers at Lowell. Hermanson mentors Suska in instruction and Jendro mentors her in facility use.
Suska said being in the teacher-mentor program has helped her become more confident. She said her mentors help her with day-to-day planning and answer questions about anything from instruction to how to set up transportation for a field trip.
Lowell Elementary School first-grade teacher Karen Hermanson (left) mentored first year first-grade teacher Tracy Suska on teaching elementary students.
"It is great to know I have someone to turn too," Suska said. "If I have a definite problem they help me sort it out and I'm not scared to ask someone for help.
"I definitely had teacher jitters and I still do. If it wasn't for the mentor program it would have been more stressful. I don't know what a new teacher would do without BTSS."
Hermanson, who has 23 years of education experience with five of those years in Brainerd, said being a mentor for Suska is like "being a coach with a gifted athlete."
"She is an awesome teacher with a lot of strong skills," said Hermanson. "My job is to support and encourage her."
Hermanson said mentoring Suska has in return helped her. She has seen growth in her own instruction with her teaching strategies.
Hermanson said she wished there would have been a teacher-mentor program when she was a new teacher. She said she received support where she taught, but said a lot of her colleagues dropped out of the profession.
The mentor program also has helped JoAnn Georges, a special education and regular instruction teacher at Central Minnesota Juvenile Center in Brainerd. Georges is thankful for the help she received from her mentor, Nancy Anderson of the Minnesota Learning Center.
Georges said state guidelines and protocols for special education students require planning and time. She said Anderson assisted her in keeping within the requirements and timelines for the special education process.
"I would be behind without a mentor," she said. "Nancy is my safety net. She has gone above and beyond her obligation and she has made herself available at any time from Day One."
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