Horry County students return for the 2015-16 school year on Thursday, but teachers have been preparing their classrooms and curriculum for at least a week.
About 250 of the district’s 2,700 teachers are transfers from other districts or first-year teachers, according to district spokeswoman Teal Harding. New teachers are provided “mentor teachers” during their first year so newbies can learn how to best write curriculum, how to prepare for staff development and what work to prioritize.
These teachers have a partner, or a group of people, so they never feel like they’re on a island alone.
April Scott, Forestbrook Middle School principal
Many new and transfer teachers are at Whittemore Park and Forestbrook middle schools, Harding said.
Brennan Allen is one of those first-year teachers.
He recently graduated from College of Charleston and will teach special education at Forestbrook Middle alongside his mentor, Ben Pretzloff. Allen said the mentorship program has been paramount to his preparations as a newly-minted teacher.
“I didn’t want to just jump in without knowing what to do,” Allen said. “It’s a lot of questions and answers, but I know that when you build that rapport on the first day, you’ll build those relationships with students for the year.”
Pretzloff, who has taught special education at Forestbrook for four years, said the difference between preparing for your first year of teaching and your fifth year is knowledge.
“Once you’ve done it, you know it,” he said. “You learn from your mistakes, you learn what works and what doesn’t work.”
About 250 New teachers in Horry County schools this year
District faculty, staff and teachers have participated in staff development sessions over the past week. Individual schools also hold group development sessions to implement new standards or materials before students make their way into homeroom.
“It’s a lot of paperwork, but fortunately we’re given a lot of time to get prepared,” Pretzloff said.
Teachers at the Academy for the Arts, Science and Technology have spent the last few days prepping for students to fill up their classrooms. Michelle Burgess, a fifth year English teacher, said every new school year feels like the first day all over again.
“Things constantly change in education; even the things we think we’ve mastered change all the time,” she said.
“And we’re given a lot of information at the beginning of the year, so the time for us to prepare for those changes can be a challenge sometimes,” added Katie Thompson, sixth-year teacher at AAST.
Thompson said teachers work on their curriculum over the summer and are constantly looking for ways to implement new ideas or technology. The last week before school starts is just a more intense, more group-focused version of those efforts, she said.
“We work hard. We don’t actually get a two month vacation every summer,” Burgess said.
Let’s start teaching, let get the ball rolling and have some fun. No more meetings.
Ben Pretzloff, special education teacher
Amanda Herath, who transferred from Georgetown County to Forestbrook Middle this year, said having a mentor who teaches the same subject – social studies – will help her adjust to a new district.
“It’s going to be much better now that I have someone who knows how everything works,” she said.
Herath is mentored by Karen Sullivan, a 35-year veteran teacher. Sullivan said the difference between the first year of school and the 35th is just a sense of calmness.
“After a while it’s less stressful,” she said. “It’s more of an excitement for the fresh faces and new kids, and you can just enjoy getting to know them.”
That calmness hasn’t made its way to first-year teacher Allen yet. Though he’s being coached by fellow teachers and guided by principal April Scott, there’s still one thing that makes him nervous:
“I guess I just don’t want to mess up,” Allen said.
But sometimes messing up is just part of the job, Pretzloff, Allen’s mentor, added.
“Mistakes will happen, but it’s all about the kids,” he said. “They’re the most important thing.”
Claire Byun: 626-0381, @Claire_TSN