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Natalie Young, a grad student in the resident teacher program, teaches a class last week at Valley Middle School in Grand Forks. The 14-month program offered through UND and the school district puts education grad students in full-time teaching positions while completing their master's degree at UND. John Stennes/Grand Forks Herald

UND program makes education grad students full-time teachers

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Valley Middle School teacher Natalie Young strolled around the classroom in the Grand Forks school Friday while her mentor sat in the back to observe.

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“Eighth-graders, you need a pencil,” Young announced.

Diane Stoley, her mentor, sat quietly in the chair and didn’t need to assist much, as the students were well-behaved. Young, 24, is one of several teachers ending their year in the district teaching a full-time class while completing their master’s degrees at UND.

Offered through UND and the school district, the resident teacher program is the only one of its kind in North Dakota and has been giving graduates more of an edge on jobs statewide, according to district mentors.

School administrators have been very supportive of the successful program, which has landed teachers jobs in Grand Forks, West Fargo, Fargo and Minnesota, mentors said.

Highly competitive, the number of openings is limited to 21 per year, they said. For instance, about 30 typically apply for six elementary education openings each year.

“It can be offered to anybody who hasn’t been a first-year teacher or who hasn’t signed a contract,” said Bonni Gourneau, an adviser for the program who works at UND. “We have students who apply from all over (the tri-state area).”

Program saves time, money

For years now, several district schools have been participating in the resident teacher program, which is offered to those interested in teaching elementary or middle school students and special education.

One perk is that it saves teachers time and money. Highly competitive and described by one mentor as “grueling,” teachers can spend upwards of 60 hours a week between teaching and taking classes three times a week at UND. The program lasts 14 months — summer to summer — and once teachers graduate in August, they’re often hired for jobs that start right away, said mentors.

Young said while it’s tough to balance the workload, she’s glad she pursued the program, which covers her tuition and offers a stipend.

“I’m very glad I decided to do it now,” she said. “It hasn’t even been a year that I’ve been out of school and I’m three-fourths done with my master’s degree.”

If Young started teaching immediately after graduation and tried to convince herself to go back to school later, it would be much harder to do, she said. Teachers are also able to implement what they’re learning in grad school into practice in a class right away, she said.

Relationship with mentors

What distinguishes this program from others is the full-time availability of the mentors. Often, mentors are simply other teachers in the building who can answer questions, not someone who necessarily spends a lot of time with the new teacher, said Stoley.

Mentors said the close relationships they have with the teachers also makes the program special.

“Every year, it’s like I have a brand new family,” said Mary Kay Tezel, a mentor at Lake Agassiz Elementary School. “That’s one of the most rewarding parts for me.”

The exchange of ideas and experiences is one of the best parts of the program, said teachers and mentors. With all of the responsibilities and excitement that come with a new classroom, teachers are thankful for the feedback and mentors are happy to provide it, they said.

“I love being around the new teachers, who are so passionate and joyous about choosing this profession,” said Jana Makovsky, a mentor at Phoenix Elementary School. “I learn from them just as much as they learn from me.”

Lake Agassiz Principal Roanne Malm, a former resident mentor supervisor, said she’s personally seen how teachers grow from the program.

“They’re part of the staff,” she said. “It’s difficult to see these wonderful teachers leave us at the end of the year.”

The district receives an excellent selection of teachers and their dedication is required throughout the year, said mentors. Not everyone can handle the workload, but those who do find more confidence in teaching and learn so much more, they said.

“I think by the end of the year, they don’t feel like typical first-year teachers,” said Stoley. “They really feel like they end up going above and beyond.”

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Jennifer Johnson
Jennifer Johnson is the K-12 education reporter for The Grand Forks Herald.  Contact her if you have any story ideas or tips and visit www.grandforksherald.com. 
(701) 787-6736
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