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A Beginning Teacher Boot Camp Tries to Educate

The new school year starts up soon and teachers are already preparing.

A beginning teacher boot camp at Saint Leo University recently brought together 20 recent graduates who will take over a classroom this year. The idea is to give the new teachers a final low-down before students sit at their desks ready to learn.

The Beginning Teacher Boot Camp started at Saint Leo four years ago to provide new teachers advice and tips that aren't usually part of a college course or not be learned during an internship.

Christina Hellwig will be teaching fourth grade at Woodland Elementary School in Zephyrhills. She came to the boot camp for as much of the information as she could get.

"To know where or who to turn to or if I need help, to meet new people, to see old friends," Hellwig said, "and again just get a little more comfortable to begin my first year."

Though it's called 'boot camp,' the teachers aren't asked to "drop down and give me 20."

A woman stood in front of the group, there was no camouflage uniform or boots. Beverly Ledbetter was dressed in a colorful blue blazer and pulled out different items from a crate as if it were a magic hat. Items like safety pins, bleach to-go pens, cough drops and green pens among other things.

She's taught for more than three decades in Pasco County Public Schools. She now teaches at Saint Leo University and spearheads the New Teacher Boot Camp.


Credit Yoselis Ramos

Ledbetter said the safety pins can help hold up a missing button from a shirt, the bleach pen can get rid of the spaghetti stain from lunch, cough drops can help clear a throat after projecting your voice to a class all day, and the green pens (instead of red ink) can help students' self-esteem when they are getting back their graded papers.

It's these types of tips and other rules, Ledbetter said, that sometimes aren't mentioned that can keep a new teacher from making simple mistakes.

"I wish that something like that had happened for me, because then I wouldn't have wound up in the dean's office along the way," she said. "It's important, I think that's the reason why I have such a heart for new teachers, is having gone through it."

Mercedes Formby isn't new to the classroom, but she attended the boot camp.

She taught out of field last year, teaching reading, but this year she found what she was looking for: a U.S. History position at Pasco Middle School. Formby said she came back to the boot camp for any new resources they might have and she learned one thing.

Credit Yoselis Ramos

"Just to make sure that I go out and to seek your mentor because I also didn't know that I had a mentor until the end of the year last year," Formby said.

Some counties, such as Pasco and Hillsborough, provide new teachers with a mentor, a go-to person for the newbies, but Formby said she wasn't told she had one.

Ledbetter isn't happy about hearing that.

"And that's one thing that irks me because having been a mentor teacher, you get paid to do that," Ledbetter said. "They should've been there, they should've recognized Mercedes and worked out with her more."

It's these types of situations the boot camp tries to prevent.

"So if you can help them avoid some of those pitfalls, it just makes their lives so much easier," Ledbetter said. "And it's very stressful, your first year, you know, the time involved in doing things."

Caitlin Cusick will be teaching third grade at Clark Elementary School in Tampa, and she learned more about the teachers union and her rights and responsibilities.

"The (Hillsborough) Classroom Teachers Association, (told me) to go online and look at my contact and things like that, I'm definitely going to go home and do that," she said, "that'll help."

Cusick also enjoyed the list of supplies Ledbetter presented. "They're practical real life things from a real-world teacher that she used, so that was cool," she said.

But not all their questions were answered.

Casey Cook will teach kindergarten this school year and her biggest worry is actually, the act of teaching.

"Especially with the little ones, you actually have to teach them to be students; that's what the (assistant principal) told me,” Cook said. “He was like, you're going to have to teach these students to actually be students, not you just teach them to learn.'"

But what the teachers learned is some questions can't be pacified with answers.

They can only be answered with personal experience.

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