New Kids on the Block

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‘Rookie’ teachers find their life’s work as the new school year kicks off in Beaufort County

By MINDY LUCAS

Ashley Kabel, or Ms. Kabel, as her kids know her, had a moment this week.

When the new media specialist stepped foot inside Coosa Elementary on Lady’s Island this week, some of the students already knew her.

“I subbed here last year so a lot of the kids said, ‘I remember you,’ ” she said from the school library on Thursday.

To see the light of recognition in their eyes was exciting for her. After all, Kabel had worked hard to get to this moment and now it was officially here.

“This is only my first week, but I feel like I’ve learned so much already,” she said.

One of 80 teachers completely new to the field of education in Beaufort County this year, Kabel is hardly alone in her “rookie” status.

Finding and retaining high-quality teachers is “a big challenge,” not only for Beaufort County but everywhere, said Jim Foster, the school district’s director of communications.

“Every year we have veteran teachers who retire, or who move to teaching jobs in other districts, or who just decide to leave the profession,” Foster said. “Combine that with our increasing student enrollment, and you have a situation where you’re constantly recruiting, constantly working to retain the folks we already have.”

In fact, the start of this year’s school year in Beaufort County comes just more than three months after some 10,000 teachers and their supporters gathered at South Carolina’s state capital.

Many took personal days in order to attend the rally in which teachers asked the state legislature for better working conditions, smaller classroom sizes and better pay among other requests.

In Beaufort County, Foster said the district has a “good mix” of veteran teachers and those who are new to the teaching profession altogether.

For some, like Kabel, a career in education meant finally realizing her dream to work with young children. She began looking for a career while in college that would allow her to work with “lots of different students” and had even considered school counseling.

Kabel went on to work in event planning for awhile but finally decided to return to school for a masters in library science. She completed her internship at Mossy Oaks and before long, landed the media specialist job at Coosa.

“It was a door that just opened and seemed very serendipitous,” she said.

For others like Philip Boynton, a first-grade teacher at Mossy Oaks Elementary, it was his very first job out of college.

“I’m very transparent with my kids,” said Boynton, who tells his students he too is new to the first grade. “They know I’m doing my best so they try to do their best.”

Boynton said he began thinking about a career in teaching while a student himself. His high school speech teacher noticed how well he worked with her own children and encouraged him to consider teaching professionally.

“I want to wake up every day and enjoy what I do,” he said. “Even if it’s just one student who says, ‘Hey I got this,’ my day is made. ”

While Boynton and Kabel said they are not blind to the challenges teachers face, both cited the support they received from other teachers, mentors and the district – before entering the teaching profession and even in their first few days on the job.

“I had a great mentor,” said Kabel, referring to fellow librarian and teacher Lynne Sunday. “I feel very supported here.”

For Boynton, his mentor at UNC-Charlotte, where he went to school, gave him two pieces of advice.

“Be yourself. After all this is your classroom,” she said. “And ask for help if you need it,” he said. “I have no problem asking for help.”

Above: Media specialist Ashley Kabel left a corporate job for a chance to become a school librarian. She started her first year in education at Coosa Elementary. Photo by Mindy Lucas

Philip Boynton, a new first-grade teacher at Mossy Oaks Elementary, was encouraged by a high school teacher to go into education. Photo by Mindy Lucas

 

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