As the clock ticked down the last hour of the first week of school Friday afternoon, Blue Ridge Elementary School teacher Mary Auck stopped to get popsicles for her first-grade students before popping into their gym class.
“They were hyper in the library yesterday, so I said I’d keep an eye on them,” Auck explained.
Auck joined 115 classroom teachers who are new to the Columbia School District this fall.
Most of Columbia’s public schools hired new teachers this year to fill a variety of positions left open by those who retired, moved out of the district or transferred to other schools. Others went from full-time teaching to part-time status or are teaching at more than one school.
Rock Bridge High School is welcoming the most new teachers this year — 13 — followed by West Junior High School, with 10.
On Friday, West Junior High teacher Lisa Shrum was teaching integrated math to her ninth-grade students. Originally from Fayette, she taught seventh- and eighth-grade math and science last year in Hermann before moving to Columbia. “I wanted to come home,” she said.
Shrum said she is excited about teaching a new math program to students this year.
“The curriculum stems off of the regular math program,” she said. “It’s a similar structure, similar class, similar program, but with new tweaks, better problems and experiments.”
Carey Hughes is another teacher new to West Junior High and teaches eighth- and ninth-grade Spanish. Before, she taught high school Spanish in Eldon for 10 years.
“I have two little ones, and part of my decision (to move here) was what they’d grow up in,” Hughes said.
Blue Ridge’s new employees include two teaching fellows. The MU teaching fellowship program allows graduate students to teach in the classroom as MU employees while earning their master’s degree.
Auck is a first-grade teaching fellow at Blue Ridge. Before graduating from Columbia College, she student-taught and tutored at Blue Ridge.
She said that teaching is different from what she expected. “It’s hard making decisions all the time,” she said. “It’s hard switching from teacher to student.”
Like Auck, Linda Frazee is another first-grade teacher at Blue Ridge who is new to the district. She taught first grade in Kahoka before moving to Columbia with her husband.
As a first-grade teacher, Frazee said she looks forward to how much her students will learn by the end of the year, including how to read.
“I’m in love with my class already. The students are great,” she said.
Frazee said that getting used to district policies and procedures is a learning experience.
“I told my students that they were new to the first grade and I was new to Blue Ridge, so we would learn about Blue Ridge together,” Frazee said.
Columbia’s new teachers are enthusiastic about teaching but anticipate challenges as well. They are looking forward to the opportunity to build relationships with their students and to help them succeed.
A new experience Hughes is anticipating at West is “cafeteria duty, which is a whole different ballpark,” she said.
Auck is really excited about her students’ writing. She said her first-graders were wonderful authors the first week of school.
Teachers new to the district, especially those who came from smaller towns, are also excited about the diversity in Columbia’s schools. Many of the district’s teachers see this diversity as a challenge, but one that they are enjoying.
Hughes is co-sponsoring Spanish Club and is looking into becoming certified in the English as a Second Language program.
“I’ve never been in a school district this diverse,” Shrum said. “I get excited when groups of kids from the same nationality are walking in the halls speaking their native language. It’s opened my eyes. There are a lot of different walks of life here.”
The new teachers aren’t the only ones excited that they are in Columbia this year.
“I feel like the new teachers we’ve hired have been an excellent addition to our staff,” Blue Ridge principal Tim Majerus said. “They’ve worked hard to get their rooms and themselves ready for the beginning of school, and all of them have had a successful start to the school year.”
West Junior High principal Sandra Logan said bringing fresh faces to the school staff is good for both new and veteran teachers. “Any time you hire new teachers, they bring new ideas,” she said. “If experienced, you bring different experiences and ideas that may work or be tried in your building. It’s always good to add new enthusiasm and ideas.”
Mary Laffey, director of human resources for the Columbia School District, said matching the right teacher to the right school is a very important part of the hiring process.
“That’s what our jobs are all about, finding people that will make a difference for kids,” Laffey said.
Majerus said, “It’s an opportunity to add the type of people that will help the school achieve its goals.”
Students are excited to have new faces in the classroom as well. Cortaiga Gant is a ninth-grader at West and a student in Shrum’s integrated math class.
Cortaiga said that Shrum is different than other math teachers she’s had in the past.
“She’s more interactive with us. She gets everyone involved so it’s not just one-on-one,” Cortaiga said. “She wants to know what we think and what our thought process is. Other math teachers don’t do that.”