First-year teachers at Rock Bridge collaborate with teaching veterans

Wednesday, August 17, 2011 | 7:26 p.m. CDT
Matt Dingler and Bree Engebritson, both graduates of Rock Bridge High School, are now teaching there. They share a classroom where they co-teach courses in pop culture and world studies.

COLUMBIA — Bree Engebritson knew when she was a senior at Rock Bridge High School in 2007 that she wanted to be a teacher.

At the beginning of her senior year at MU, she said professors urged her to begin applying for full-time teaching positions. By December 2010, she had applied to 10 school districts, focusing most of her efforts in the Columbia area.


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Engebritson’s applications yielded several interviews with smaller school districts, but she thought it would be a good idea to contact former teachers at Rock Bridge to see about possible openings there.

“I didn’t want to commit to anything if there was even a chance to work at Rock Bridge,” she said.

Engebritson learned about a possible opening with the English Department at the school from a conversation with one of her former high school teachers.

“Once I found out about this opening, I had my heart set on it,” Engebritson said. She contacted the department chair in March for an informal meeting, had her formal interview in April and found out two weeks later that she had landed the job.

On Thursday, she will return to her alma mater as a teacher.

When Columbia Public Schools begin the new year on Thursday, Engebritson will be among 169 new teachers.

Engebritson won’t have to tackle her first year in the classroom on her own. As part of the partnership between language arts and social studies teachers at Rock Bridge, Engebritson will spend the next two years partnered with third-year teacher Matt Dingler. Dingler also graduated from Rock Bridge High School and spent his first two years partner-teaching in the school’s social studies department.

Engebritson said Rock Bridge was her first choice because it provided the perfect opportunity to stay close to her family, friends and former teachers.

“I went through the Columbia Public School system and had a wonderful experience,” Engebritson said. “My family is from the area, and I wanted to stay close to them. “

The relationships Engebritson maintained during her collegiate years with her former teachers were also a large part of why she set her sights on Rock Bridge.

“I would come back and see them on my breaks and call them with questions,” she said. “When I worked on projects and had questions, I would ask them instead of my professors.”

With 40 students in each of her classes, Engebritson said she believes that becoming a mentor for her students will be her biggest challenge.

“I want to be able to get in there and connect with my students from the beginning, but with the class size I won’t be able to get to know the students as quickly as I want to,” she said.

Since Engebritson is an English teacher, Dingler said, partner-teaching the world studies and American pop culture classes with Engebritson works well. Dingler said that Rock Bridge has a “very unique educational philosophy that’s very progressive in a lot of ways.”

It will provide students with a “holistic view of what a culture encompasses,” Dingler said, “since the skills you use in reading, writing and language all affect how a culture functions and forms itself.”

For Engebritson, partnering with Dingler is a big relief.

“One hundred thirty kids walking through your door is nerve-wracking,” Engebritson said. "So having someone to rely on if I do have questions, to help with classroom management, to do planning together really helps. It’s a full-on collaboration.”

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