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PAISD to begin ‘innovative’ staff development course

New teachers to train year-round in classroom management, delivery

Misty Zeigler thought she was prepared for anything.

She’d worked as a nurse for 15 years before switching careers to become an elementary school teacher. She’d survived over a decade with patients in a hospital. Surely, teaching pre-teens would be less intimidating, less stressful. The thought now makes Zeigler shake with laughter.

Zeigler, who just completed her first year teaching in the Tyrrell Elementary School fifth grade science department, said she knows there’s a learning curve in every profession after graduation, but her first year at Tyrrell opened her eyes to a side of teaching she never knew existed.

“I thought I would be ready for anything,” Zeigler said, her laughter subsiding, in the Port Arthur Independent School District Administration Building. “But as a new teacher, you’re so worried about what to teach to begin with — and then you have to figure out how to teach the same thing five different ways.”

Zeigler said the pedagogy learning curve is exceptionally steep. Learning what you should do when a child is being disruptive or needs disciplinary action, for example, cannot be reproduced by a college professor in a contained setting. Knowing how to teach the class curriculum is not the same as knowing how to adapt the course material to each student’s learning level and attention span.

“Because you may have a GT (gifted and talented) here, special ed here, ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) here, ESL (English as a Second Language) here,” Zeigler continued. “You’ve got to be able to teach the entire class with a spectrum of abilities and skill levels the same lesson and have them all walk away with an equal understanding of what you’ve been teaching. You have to know that curriculum inside and out so that you can teach it 20 different ways.”

Port Arthur ISD Superintendent Mark Porterie said he knows new teachers — those with zero to five years experience, like Zeigler — are coming into the district unprepared. He said he sees it with his own eyes throughout his classrooms and he’s heard the complaints directly from the educators.

Porterie said to assist these teachers, and to strengthen the district, he’s had to get creative. New teachers are already paired with a more experienced educator as a mentor, and the district utilizes Region V and IV professional development opportunities.

“So how do we help them? We get innovative,” Porterie said.

Starting in August, Porterie said, each Port Arthur ISD teacher with zero to five years experience will enroll in an ongoing professional staff development course. They will take classes online year-round and meet in groups throughout the district during the school year, at least once every six weeks, to discuss what they’re learning in the program.

“Knowledge Delivery Systems offers a 50-hour course,” Porterie said. “This is a complete turnaround from the one-day staff development training we offer now. This will not be, ‘On Sept. 1, you go to staff development.’ This will be continuous staff development, giving them skills to utilize daily in their classrooms so they can strengthen their delivery of instruction and their own confidence in their abilities. It’s more of a one-on-one personal support system. I’m actually going to take the course myself, so I can meet with their discussion groups during this first year.”

Knowledge Delivery Systems pairs instructional reading with video interviews of experienced teachers inside their classrooms, increasing student-to-student and teacher-to-student interactions by growing critical thinking skills and inventing group activities.

The PAISD Board of Trustees approved a $304,354.50 agreement between Knowledge Delivery Systems and the district Monday night. The Port Arthur Teachers Association was approved for a $40,000 grant to buy the district a learning management platform to aid PAISD rookie teachers who will register in the Knowledge Delivery Systems course.

Tamela Hebert, a William B. Travis Elementary School third grade reading teacher who just completed her 10th year teaching in PAISD, said many of the “experienced tricks” — like those taught in Knowledge Delivery Systems’ “Making Student Thinking Visible, “Career and College Ready Standards” and “Survival Kit for New Teachers” courses — will simply come with time, but she remembers the “uncertainty” of just starting out.

“You have to learn how you react to children and what you’re best at,” Hebert said. “When I first started in the district, we had a new teacher orientation. All of the new teachers met once or twice a month to talk through what we were experiencing with the pros, the long-haul teachers. We met like that the first two years, and those meetings helped me so much. They were invaluable to me.”

Porterie said the new ongoing staff development course will impact a significant amount of Port Arthur ISD teachers. New teachers make up 36.3 percent of the district’s total teaching staff, according to the Texas Education Agency’s 2013-14 Texas Academic Performance Report — the most recent performance report for school districts throughout the state.

Porterie said he thinks giving new teachers an ongoing staff development course will be paramount to their ultimate success and retention in the district. The 2013-14 Texas Academic Performance Report assigned PAISD a 22.5 percent teacher turnover rate — higher than the state’s 16.2 percent turnover rate in the same year.

“Teaching today is a lot different from when I started 23 years ago,” Porterie said. “We’re seeing these new teachers coming in that need more support when it comes to classroom management and to delivering their instruction to live bodies — all on their own separate educational levels. Our learners today are diverse.

“And our new teachers say they’re struggling, because a lot of these things, they were not taught in college. They don’t teach you, in college, how to face those challenges when you have three students on grade level, three students who are bi-polar, three students crying because their daddy’s in jail — all while delivering that instruction to every student and doing your best to help them succeed academically. The college professors do not teach them that.”

Porterie said he thinks the online course will also fill a void for career professionals who never obtained a pedagogy degree.

“We have a lot of individuals coming from the business world into our classrooms,” he said. “We have engineers coming in from industry teaching math courses. They’re brilliant people, and they know their fields — they have no problem teaching the class material. But when you have 27 students, 160 if you’re teaching in the high school, that’s completely different from industry or from business.”

Porterie said many of the district’s new teachers are millennials, so the online course — with periodic face-to-face instruction within the district — will cater to their more “technological capabilities.”

Porterie said the district will reallocate part of its existing staff development budget to the new online program, while continuing its partnerships with Region V and Region IV to attend regional staff development workshops.

Twitter: @crhenderson90