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Group helps alumni adjust to teaching profession

A new group is helping UNG alumni gain further professional development once they are in the teaching field.

A new group at the University of North Georgia (UNG) is helping alumni who are teaching with the transitions they face in the first three years in the classroom.

UNG’s College of Education piloted the UNG Alumni Teachers Engaging Aspiring Connecting Helping (TEACH) program with 10 to 15 first-year teachers during the 2017-18 school year. Eight to 10 of those teachers attended monthly meetings where they discussed areas of professional development.

Kelly Jo Plante, a fourth-grade teacher at Midway Elementary in Forsyth County, started her second year as a teacher this fall. During one of the meetings this past school year, she heard a fellow teacher talk about a system she used to create leadership roles that helped students buy in instead of becoming behavior problems. Plante and her curriculum coach observed the other UNG graduate's class and brought the system back to Plante's school.

"I love being able to talk to everyone," Plante said. "We've built a really good community and been able to support each other."

Cindy Sherrill, director of clinical engagement and community partnerships in the College of Education, helped start the new program after graduates requested further professional development.

Dr. Kellie Whelan-Kim, Dr. Danielle Hilaski, Dr. Jennifer Jones, and Dr. Nicole Maxwell are the UNG College of Education faculty coordinating the efforts to aid new teachers until they are professionally certified following their third year in the profession.

In addition to the exchange of ideas, having the support of those faculty and fellow alumni is crucial during a tough transition.

"The goal was to try to provide that continuous support," Whelan-Kim said. "It gives them a forum for ideas and sharing their challenges and successes."

Megan Cromie, a first-year teacher at Shiloh Point Elementary in Forsyth County, said it's a different world moving from student teaching to having her own classroom.

"It's been nice to have that line of contact," Cromie said. "They're easier to go to because I know them and have an established relationship with them."

And the members of UNG Alumni TEACH haven't just been receiving aid. They organized a first-year teachers’ forum to help their colleagues learn about some of the challenges they will face.

The meetings for UNG Alumni TEACH were held primarily on UNG's Cumming Campus in 2017-18 but will rotate between campuses or locations near UNG campuses during the 2018-19 school year. One of the efforts this year will include a day or two where teachers can visit others' classrooms.

Plante started a Facebook group where members can discuss the issues they're facing. It was also a forum where they shared pictures of their classrooms before the school year started.

Cromie said the group has been a great resource as she starts her teaching career.

"It's almost like a little bit of home," Cromie said. "They understand the transition from college to the first professional job."

Plante, likewise, has enjoyed the benefits.

"I like being involved. I love UNG," Plante said. "It's been great for me because I've enjoyed being able to keep that connection with the school, as well as working with my peers to learn from each other."

And it's just getting started.

"I'm excited to see how it grows," Plante said.

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