Mentor program keeps Salt Lake teachers on the job

SALT LAKE CITY — First-year teacher Veronica Hernandez has something in her class few teachers get: a mentor, whose only job is to help new teachers succeed.

"They give you great ideas that you wouldn’t have thought of yourself, adding tools to your teacher toolbox," Hernandez said.

One of those tools: her peer mentor recently suggested engaging students by getting them up and moving.

On this day, Hernandez took a break from instruction and had students follow an online exercise class.

"First graders are wiggly after lunch," said peer mentor Sarah Machol. "So I’m really excited to see her trying some of those things."

Hernandez and other teachers say this kind of support boosts morale by providing specific feedback.

"Knowing that I have another set of eyes that are here help me become the best teacher I can be," said Eliza McKay, another first-year teacher.

Unlike many districts, which have mentors who also teach and maintain other duties, Salt Lake City School District hires peer mentors who focus only on that job. Leaders applied for a legislative grant to pilot the program.

"This is the first program of its kind in Utah," said Peer Assistance Review (PAR) supervisor Logan Hall. "It’s their entire job to help novice teachers to be successful."

This is important because 56 percent of new teachers in Utah quit, according to the University of Utah’s Education Policy Center. Of those teachers in Salt Lake’s PAR program, only twenty-three percent quit.

With that kind of difference, Salt Lake City School District now pays to continue the pilot.

"What do our teachers need most? That is the key question," Hall said.

And teachers said their needs are being met.

"I really love what I do, and coming to work and having the support makes me feel like I can do what I need to do here," Hernandez said.

In the end, mentors believe skilled, satisfied teachers benefit students.

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