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September 28, 2017

PAR Program helps new teachers succeed

Ask a Kennewick teacher about their mentor teacher from their first year teaching and they’ll usually bring up the personalized notes.

“During observations, they would always take the time to leave an encouraging and supportive hand-written note on my desk, letting me know what I had done well,” recalls Chinook Middle School teacher Melyssa Wandling, who joined the district a few years ago. “I would have been so lost without them.”

The mentor teachers of the district’s Peer and Assistance Resources (PAR) Program do far more than leave encouraging messages for new teachers. They provide everything from monthly classes on education topics to one-on-one support. All of this ensures the district’s newest teachers can become successful educators.

“If we can encourage them and strengthen them, the hope is they’ll stay and continue to be great teachers,” says mentor teacher Eric Otheim.

The PAR program’s mentors, also known as Consulting Peer Educators (CPEs), have served hundreds of Kennewick teachers as they began their educational careers. Mentor teacher Deb Fancher says while new teachers are excited to get into the classroom, they can also feel overwhelmed by the needs of their students, the demands of parents and the responsibilities of being a professional educator.

“During your first year teaching, you’re bridging the gap between your college instruction and the reality of your school’s or district’s educational goals,” Fancher says.

“We want to walk beside new teachers as they make that transition," adds mentor teacher Tina Brewer.

Mentor teachers are well equipped to help the district’s newest teachers; beyond having years of experience, they are nominated to be mentors by their fellow teachers who have relied on their advice themselves. And mentoring is their full-time job, having no classroom assignment during their four-year commitment working in the PAR Program. The program added a fourth mentor teacher position beginning with the 2017-18 school year, with Mindy Hoffman assigned to work with the district's newest special education teachers.

“I always felt welcomed, appreciated and part of a team,” says Morgan Valerio, a second-grade teacher at Sunset View Elementary who started in the district four years ago. “The support PAR provided me was invaluable and I will always be thankful.” 

Not every day during a teacher’s first year will be great, the mentors say. Each one will have a day or two when their lesson plan doesn’t engage students the way they expected or they will feel overcome by the workload the job sometimes brings. The PAR Program is there to help them get past those days.