New SPED teachers find their marigold through mentoring program

14-Dec-2017

Marigolds are one of the best plants for companion planting – helping to chase away certain pests and improve flavor and growth of other plants like carrots, cabbage and cantaloupes. In teaching, these companion plants take the form of mentors like Tracy Muranaka-Ng who help nurture up and coming teachers.

“I kept thinking to myself, “I don't know why I’m doing this.” I almost quit,” shared second year Special Education (SPED) teacher Carissa Simmons.

Those thoughts changed when she became a participant in the Hawaii State Department of Education’s mentoring program.

Simmons was paired with SPED mentor teacher Tracy Muranaka-Ng, and what developed over the course of just a few months was a strong system of support that both claim made them better educators.

Muranaka-Ng is one of two SPED-specific mentor teachers with the department’s Hawaii Teacher Induction Center. Prior to that, she was a SPED teacher at Kuhio Elementary and Gus Webling Elementary and has more than 15 years of experience with the department.

“Tracy’s background in SPED has been so valuable. She really understands what I’m going through, and her feedback and ideas are on point,” said Simmons. “I have more confidence this year and Tracy is only a text or phone call away if I have any questions. It’s been a wonderful experience.”

This type of support is commonly known in education as the Marigold Effect.

When it comes to gardening, marigolds are one of the best plants for companion planting – helping to chase away certain pests and improve flavor and growth of other plants like carrots, cabbage and cantaloupes. In teaching, these companion plants take the form of mentors like Muranaka-Ng who help nurture up and coming teachers.

Muranaka-Ng reflected on her own experience as a beginning teacher, stating, “It was a rough patch – not having curriculum, not knowing who to turn to, it can be scary at times.” She is motivated to change this experience for incoming teachers by providing the supports they need, which she believes will help reduce turnover.

“Teachers go into this profession knowing what they will get paid; however, what they may not realize is the magnitude of the job,” she added. “Our goal at the Hawaii Teacher Induction Center is to provide mentoring support from the start and avoid situations where we may end up losing talented educators like Carissa. I’m glad we had the opportunity to step in at the right time and keep her with the DOE.”

The Hawaii Teacher Induction Center is housed in the department’s Office of Human Resources, Leadership Institute, and is tasked with implementing a statewide Teacher Induction Program that consistently supports beginning teachers through their challenging first years.

Keri Shimomoto, the center’s director, continues her efforts to build up the program including supports for new SPED teachers.

“It takes a unique skillset to be a SPED teacher, the job can be overwhelming when it comes to understanding the law (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), following procedures, timelines and the paperwork involved,” she said. “In addition, SPED teachers need to develop and implement individualized instruction for their students and coordinate with related service providers, parents and paraprofessionals. Working with a mentor that has experience, as an effective SPED teacher, is critical in helping these beginning teachers navigate the complexity of the job, while providing timely instructional support.  

Approximately 30 percent of all beginning teachers are SPED teachers and there are just not enough SPED mentors. The Center is trying to build capacity in this area and raise awareness about the need for skilled SPED mentors.

“This program is a wonderful example of the type of talent management the department values and would like to expand,” said Assistant Superintendent of Talent Management Cynthia Covell. “The data shows that when a teacher feels supported they tend to stay in the profession.”

Those interested in the Hawaii Teacher Induction Center can call (808) 733-4130.

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