For some it’s the start of a career, for others a second career, still others a new place and a new year. But no matter the beginning, it’s a busy time of year for the 38 teachers in the Denison Independent School District. Their time officially began last week with a three-day orientation, much of which was a chance for teachers to learn about the basics of the ways Denison ISD does its business.
However, district officials did work some variation into the schedule, sending the teachers on a half-day scavenger hunt in Denison. Mayes Elementary School teacher Becky Russell, who organized the hunt, said organizers were “just trying to give (teachers) new information in a fun way. The days get so long for them all week, because they’re sitting in a chair and they’re just bombarded with information.”
This city-wide search, which included a tour of the district’s ongoing construction, gave teachers a chance to see what Denison has to offer. “This is an opportunity for us to say, ‘Here’s your new home. … Welcome to the community,” Russell said.
Clelia Pena, who will teach the bilingual second grade class at Mayes next year, said the experience was a chance to see parts of Denison she’s not seen before.
Russell said the district hopes the exposure to the community will also help with retention: “If you’re connected outside of your job, you’re more likely to stay, and that’s what we want them to do. We want them to connect to the community and the family of Denison, not just their job.”
A new teacher luncheon on Friday sponsored by the Denison Chamber of Commerce also gave teachers a chance to experience the community’s support for the school district. Joe Horn, who will teach high school math and coach girls soccer, said that spirit is part of what attracted him to Denison. “The community backing is a lot better here than I’ve seen,” he said.
In addition to experiencing that community support, teachers who are new to the profession also got a welcome from their mentors who will be providing professional support throughout the school year.
“It’s not a catch-you-in-the-hall, ‘Are you doing okay?’ … It’s more than that,” said Russell, who also leads the mentoring program.
She said mentors set aside specific time to talk with their mentees, initially targeting behavior and classroom management. Russell said that can be a challenge for many teachers, who come into the school year bubbling with excitement.
Annie Means, who will teach science at B. McDaniel Middle School this year, definitely has that new-teacher glow. For Means this will be her first year as a teacher, but not her first career. “A couple of years ago I had a light-bulb moment and realized that although I was very good at my job in corporate America, it was not fulfilling,” she said. “There was always something missing, and no matter how far I climbed up the ladder, it wasn’t what I needed to be doing.”
Nick Timmerman, who will teach chorale music at the high school, also shared a similar passion as he discussed his plans for his first school year. “This is home,” he said of his decision to pursue a music education degree. “This is what makes me wake up with a smile every day.”
That’s a passion that extends beyond those who are new to the profession. “Whenever you get a kid that’s struggling with it and they finally get it, that’s one of the most rewarding things,” said Horn, who’s worked at several districts before Denison.
Pena’s passion seems to date back to an early age. “My mom says when I was little I would put all my teddy bears and dolls in a row and teach them,” she said. “I love school. I love coming to see the kids.”
Russell said the challenge for first-year teachers is that passion can sometimes be starved by the struggles of day-to-day classroom management. Academically, she said, college prepares teachers for the classroom, but the actual practice can sometimes be different. “That’s why you have to have somebody by your side,” she said. “You think you know what you’ve learned in books, and that’s important, … but no amount of college can prepare you.”
And even after 35 years in education, Russell said, it’s still a constant learning process. “I don’t think we could do it without the support of each other,” she said.