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Student teacher cohort focuses on building network of support

As Rachel Zeboor enters the teaching profession, she already has educators with years of experience to learn from and lean on. She’s spent time this year—between finishing her education degree and student teaching—developing a network of supportive peers and learning best practices to use in her future classroom.

Zeboor graduated from Grand Valley State University April 25 and is now certified to teach all subjects in elementary school, as well as middle school math. She also finished student teaching in a Kenowa Hills Public Schools fifth-grade classroom last month.

“I am in the thick of sending out applications to different places,” Zeboor said. She feels good about her prospects of staying in Kent County.

New teacher Rachel Zeboor, at left, talks with new teacher Mary Volesky during ‘Leaders of Tomorrow’

People rooting for Zeboor’s success include Kent ISD math consultant Rusty Anderson, and math specialists Andrew Smith and Marcus Deja, who lead Zeboor and 15 others student teachers in the first cohort of “Leaders of Tomorrow.”

The goal is to address the teacher shortage by keeping new educators in Kent County and offering ongoing support so they stay in the profession.

The need is becoming urgent: the pool of college students in teacher preparation in Michigan has declined by more than two-thirds since 2008-2009, according to federal Title II data. Retention is also an issue with 8 percent of teachers leaving the profession annually, according to “Teacher Turnover in Michigan” from the state Department of Education.

The future teachers have tapped the knowledge of the three former classroom teachers since fall, during monthly sessions at Kent ISD on topics aimed to help them in the classroom and to build relationships with other educators.

The need is becoming urgent: the pool of college students in teacher preparation in Michigan has declined by more than two-thirds since 2008-2009. — federal Title II data

The new teachers all graduate this spring from Grand Valley State University, Aquinas College, Cornerstone University and Calvin College.

Zeboor said the cohort has helped her build confidence about what she will face as a first-year teacher. “It might be stressful and it might be a little scary, but I have all these people on my bench and on my team that are going to help me through that and help me understand it.”

Kent ISD math specialist Andrew Smith talks to new teachers about the profession

Building a Supportive Teaching Culture

Anderson was a secondary math teacher in North Carolina and at Kent Innovation High; Smith has taught elementary school in Cedar Springs and Byron Center Public Schools, and Deja taught at All Saints Academy Middle School and Kent Innovation High.

“We are a group who tries to think differently about some of the challenges we face in education and, instead of just talking about the challenges, we try to find solutions,” Anderson said. “We are open to trying things differently and seeing what happens.”

Math instruction has been one focus. “We do have a lot of conversations around mathematics, but at the same time we also have a lot of conversations about other things,” he said.

Kent ISD math specialist Marcus Deja talks with new teachers about their next steps

Other focuses are broader and deal with less tangible issues. Anderson said they include:

Adaptability —“Teachers are going to be placed in cultures they don’t know yet. How do they, as a young adult, go into a culture and influence positive change?”

Cultural competence —“We know that a majority – 85 percent of pre-service teachers in the state of Michigan – are white. They are not going to be teaching students who look like them. It’s vital that they continue their journey of unpacking who they are and who their students might be so that they can best support learning and relationships in the classroom.”

Classroom readiness —“We want to provide space for authentic dialogue around what they experienced in the classroom while student teaching.”

Kent ISD math consultant Rusty Anderson helped start ‘Leaders of Tomorrow’

Anderson, Smith and Deja are now helping the teachers find jobs and will continue working with them first next year through face-to-face meetings and classroom visits.

“We hope this is developing a positive relationship for them and us knowing we can be a support for them moving forward,” Anderson said. “Our goal is to build a bridge from college life to professional life.”

Keeping in touch with the teachers is part of the retention piece, he said.

“Retention means you have to continue relationships and continue support when things get really hard.”

Cohort member Logan Wesseldyk is graduating from Cornerstone University this month, and recently accepted a teaching job at Walker Charter Academy. She said she feels prepared and is thankful for her time spent in Leaders of Tomorrow.

“(Anderson, Smith and Deja) have provided that safe space where you can ask them anything and they can give their best knowledge and answers.  They really have given support and feedback,” Wesseldyk said.


Teachers help teachers take it to the next level and Van Andel Institute

From right, Katie Barton and Abbi Stratton plan to begin their first year teaching in the fall

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.


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  1. Thanks John! It is great when organizations come together in a way that supports our common vision. Kent ISD’s partnership with higher education (Aquinas, Calvin, Cornerstone and GVSU) has been fruitful from the start in service of the students we serve.


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