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Mentorship program short-staffed, but essential for teacher retention

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It's not a profession for the faint of heart - not talking about law enforcement, but teaching. With a constant teacher shortage here in Guam, challenges face both educators and a program meant to help them succeed in the profession.

Tamarie Fegurgur said her first few years teaching elementary school weren't quite what she expected. She told KUAM News, "They were more into gangs and drugs and alcohol and the next year a lot of them were eager to learn, but a lot of them got into fights, and they were doing other things that they shouldn't be doing, and there were a lot of things happening at home."

In addition to the challenges with standardized testing and lesson planning, classroom management was a major hurdle. "I even had kids line up all the chairs, they were running across the chairs, then they were running across the desk and I'm like 'oh my gosh, what am I doing?!'" she added.

At one point she was juggling 29 students - three of which had special needs. This even though the max per elementary school classroom is supposed to be 25. "There weren't enough teachers and also we didn't have a special education teacher on board during that time, so thankfully I had a special education certification so I was able to accommodate them," she said.

But the constant challenges left her at a breaking point three years later. "That's the time when I felt like I wanted to quit," she said.

Luckily, that changed after Fegurgur participated in DOE's teacher mentorship program. The one year program is required before new teachers recertify. It aims to both retain teachers and accelerate effective teaching practices. But because of the limited amount of mentors, teachers may not receive this service until their third year. "It's a good thing she came to me during my third year of teaching because that's when I just had it," she said.

Teachers Rita Cortez and Tricia Tagawa had similar challenges, saying the mentorship program was the lifeboat they needed to stay afloat. Tagawa said, "I love how the mentorship program gives you support in terms of like your teaching, how to better handle situations," with Cortez adding, "I just can't be any more thankful for it. I think if I didn't have the mentorship program, I might consider finding another profession, just to be perfectly honest."

However, DOE only has 5 mentors servicing the entire district, with a backlog of approximately 100. The shortage means mentors will likely face heavier case loads of 25 to 30 which could affect the program's effectiveness next year. Currently, the program's success rate speaks for itself.

Between School Year 2011-2012 and 2015-2016, a total of 454 teachers were mentored, 396 of which are still at DOE. Tagawa noted, "So we need more mentors, so that we can also address first year teachers, because usually after the first three years, studies show that teachers tend to just give up."

"If we had an increase in mentorship, I think there would be more educators in our school system."

For Fegurgur, it not only kept her in the classroom but made her more effective at what she loves, as she said, "I enjoy teaching and I've come back to that passion."

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