BEST Academy helps new teachers shine 

Houston T. Jackson IV had plenty on his plate as a first-year teacher at Lakeview Hope Academy in 2015. Not only was he getting a handle on basic teaching tasks like lesson planning, grading and classroom management, but he was also working on earning his teaching certificate from PLU. 

“Everything was such a blur,” he said. 

Luckily, he had Jessica Connor to help him. Connor is one of Clover Park School District’s mentor teachers through the Beginning Educator Support Team (BEST) Academy. Available to all first-year teachers, BEST Academy offers intentional support for teachers in their first few years on the job. That support includes a week-long summer orientation, weekly mentorship through their first year and as many training classes as the teacher can handle. 

“When I became a teacher, I was hired three days prior to the start of school and had three new courses to teach. It was not a pretty sight,” said Jan Lonsway, the district’s supervisor for professional development. “We provide extensive support so that teachers are ready on their first day of school.” 

Jackson said the mentorship Connor provided helped him stay afloat throughout his first year, and he continues to rely on her as resource now that he’s in his third year as a fifth-grade teacher. 

“That first year is unlike any you’ll ever have,” Jackson said. “Any first-year teacher needs that mentor you can depend on and who can help you as you’re trying to figure things out on the fly.” 

In addition to helpful words of advice, Jackson said Connor helped him keep his sanity and stay steady through the daily grid of teaching. She helped him blueprint out ways to approach different situations and watched videos of his teaching to provide feedback. 

To accompany the mentor program and summer orientation, BEST Academy also gives teachers access to bi-monthly roundtables with other first-year teachers, observations of experienced teachers in the classroom and lesson planning workshops. 

Mentors in BEST Academy are experienced and highly trained, both in their subject areas and in their role as mentors. Shelly Knoll, who has served as a mentor each of the last five years, said she finds the role rewarding for many reasons. 

“It’s rewarding for me to see something we’ve talked about and it works with their students,” she said. “It’s great to work with them and see them be successful on their own.”