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Draper Journal

Canyons School District-UVU partnership pairs teacher-interns with mentors for success in classrooms

Dec 16, 2021 09:22AM ● By Julie Slama

Oak Hollow’s Malorie Orgill instructs her students in the Utah Valley University teacher-intern program. (Melissa Elmes/Oak Hollow)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Malorie Orgill’s grandmother had a pioneer-era student desk in her basement. That desk provided an opportunity for Orgill, as a child, to play school with her cousins.

That playtime, along with the influence of her third-grade and sixth-grade teachers, turned those experiences into her career path. This year, Orgill is a Utah Valley University teacher-intern at Oak Hollow Elementary.

“I’ve always wanted to be a teacher so I’m thriving off of every new experience,” she said.

The Utah Valley University program partners with Canyons School District to place two teacher-interns at each Oak Hollow and Willow Springs elementary schools after the candidates are interviewed. As teacher-interns, they receive half salary and full benefits while overseeing a classroom, and they also have an intern-mentor, who supports them throughout the internship, said Sally Sansom, Canyons human resources elementary administrator.

“These teacher interns are there every step of the way, providing support, lesson plans, teaming opportunities; teacher-interns love it because they’re getting the training plus some money, and they come with this great knowledge straight from the university so they’re contributing fresh ideas in our classrooms right away,” Sansom said. “When these intern-teachers finish their year, they are amazingly strong teachers, which we are able to hire as full-time teachers in our district, plus now we have this mentor in the school, and although she’s dedicated to the interns, she’s there to help all her colleagues and people in the building.”

The partnership is in its third year at Oak Hollow and second year at Willow Springs and all six former teacher-interns have been hired by the district. Both intern-mentors have been in their positions throughout the partnership and earn the same salary and benefits they did as classroom teachers.

At Oak Hollow this year that means teacher-interns Orgill and Jazzie Lambson can rely upon Melissa Elmes as the intern-mentor and Sofia Kasmussen and Kelanee Worthington can lean on Christine Wirthlin for experience and guidance.

“I’m the teacher for this year, but it’s great to have Melissa as the intern-mentor,” Orgill said. “She helps with anything we need, so she’s helped us to organize my classroom in a way that is effective and efficient. She’s helped me with preparing for my first parent-teacher conferences, giving me a rundown on how that works and what to prepare for, and we co-teach some lessons.”

Orgill said that it’s helpful having Elmes in the classroom because her mentor can quickly jump in to explain something another way or demonstrate another approach “to best teach them effectively and then I can observe and go teach the next lesson that way so it’s a really good way to get feedback quickly.”

She said having an experienced mentor has helped as her previous perspective and experience in a classroom was as a student or parent.

“I think about how I was in fourth grade and my attention span. I would talk a lot, (so) I try to get more engaging lessons and she helps with that. With parent-teacher conferences, I have never been on this side. I really like meeting the families to know the background of my students as well; it helps me find more things relatable to them,” Orgill said. 

Elmes is willing to share her knowledge to support and train teacher-interns.

“I love doing this,” she said. “I am in their rooms all the time. The kids see us as one force working together to make their education better. They know who their teacher is, and they know I’m in there to help them and support kids and teachers to have the best experiences.”

Elmes works together with her teacher-interns on their weekly plans.

“We sit down and talk about what to do the next week. I give them suggestions and help, a lot at the beginning as they may not know how to combine a district curriculum with their ideas they’ve been taught so I help build that bridge between the two. I can show them different techniques or strategies and give them suggestions,” she said. 

At Willow Springs, teacher-mentor Wirthlin understands this practice as she has been on both sides. In 2011, she was a teacher-intern in Jordan School District.

“I have literally been in their shoes, so I remember what it was like and how much was expected of me,” she said. “It was a lot starting out as a first-year teacher so I’m always thinking ahead and letting them know what’s coming up and what they’re going to need so I can support them to be successful. I remember relying on my mentor-facilitator and we’re still friends to this day. I couldn’t have gotten through my first year without her.”

It may be discussing lesson plans, or it may be as simple as modeling the quiet rows are the first to be lined up to be excused, Wirthlin said.

“I’ve had such great interns and it’s helpful for me they are organized and professional. Sometimes it can get a little hectic or overwhelming and they proactively ask me questions to help. I tell the interns that every day is different and as a teacher, you need to be flexible, things pop up and you just got to roll with it,” she said.

As the year is up, they both say their former interns have reached back to bounce an idea or ask a question.

“I think it’s because we have such a strong working relationship that they feel they can send a text and just ask for advice or reassurance or an idea,” said Elmes, who is in her 21st year teaching. “They know I have always been an advocate for them. The best part is to watch someone who’s so excited to become a teacher grow over the year. It is the growth I love and it’s the same when I watch students learn. It’s a fun experience because for me, the interns are my students and I watch them become amazing teachers who will impact their students for the rest of their lives.”

Wirthlin also relishes the role.

“I love it because I am mentoring these new teachers who are so fun and have so much energy and enthusiasm. They’re excited to try all these things they’ve been learning in their university classes, and I can give them some suggestions and teacher tips that have been successful for me. I can say, ‘let me help you not make the same mistakes that I made,’” she said. 

That’s exactly what Orgill counted on when she decided to become an intern-mentor.

“I really wanted to go all in. I’m one of those people who like to jump right in and be able to have my own classroom management, the way I was thinking it would work, to know if that was the right step for me,” she said. “I learned I needed to tweak it with Melissa, and she’s been continuously giving me advice, and that honestly has been so helpful. I love what I’m doing, I love coming to school, I love teaching.”