Federal grant to boost support for technical education teachers in Kansas

PITTSBURG, Kan. — A federal grant of about $900,000 has been awarded to the Greenbush Southeast Kansas Education Service Center and Pittsburg State University to help support career and technical education teachers across the state.

“Our ultimate goal is to increase the current supply of career and technical education teachers in Kansas,” project director Marie Hall said.

One of the primary objectives for the three-year grant is to improve mentoring programs for new teachers. Mentors will be available to help new teachers with both pedagogy needs, such as how to manage a classroom, and technical needs, such as how to stay current with changes in their industry.

The grant targets career and technical education teachers — educators working to instruct students in fields such as family and consumer science, agriculture, health sciences, construction or automotive technology — because those individuals often require a unique support system, said Greg Belcher, director of the PSU Kansas Center for Career and Technical Education.

“A lot of times, they’re the only person like them in their building,” he said. “They’re not going to have multiple welding teachers at a high school, so a lot of times what we see is those teachers become isolated.”

Kevin Elliott will serve as a mentoring coordinator for the project, and he knows all too well the challenges faced by teachers of technical subjects. He previously worked for about two decades as the carpentry and woodworking teacher for Riverton.

“The challenge for me was knowing the different procedures, like how to do field trips and get reimbursed for things,” he said. “It’s not just something you come in knowing.”

In his current role, Elliott will help project staff members match teachers with mentors in their geographic region of the state and in a similar content area. He said mentors — he used to be one of those too — will provide encouragement to new teachers and look for ways to help them improve in the classroom.

Other partners in the project are Emporia State University, Fort Hays State University, Kansas State University, The New Teacher Center and 77 school districts in Greenbush’s Carl Perkins Consortium.

Perspectives of mentor, teacher

Alan Boultinghouse, a recently retired agriculture teacher, remembers his first few years well. During the early part of his 33-year career at Girard High School, he leaned on other ag teachers that he knew for assistance, recognizing that not everyone had that luxury.

“In ag education, you wear a lot of different hats (because) you don’t teach the same discipline each hour — it may be animal science, it may be education, it may be something in the greenhouse, and having expertise in all those areas can be really tough,” he said. “The things I struggled with were how to do paperwork, how to do an FFA organization and how to be a sponsor. As I look back, there were many areas I wasn’t as knowledgeable in, and that’s where I think the mentorship would have come in to place.”

Boultinghouse now serves in the capacity of mentor to ag teachers at Southeast and Independence high schools. They have different needs, so they have different questions for him, but he says his ability to help them is a win for everyone.

“I think the ultimate goal is we want to help the students in the classroom,” he said. “And No. 2, I think it’s a self-confidence boost for the teacher to know they have somebody they can call on if they need help.”

On the other end of the equation is Austin Smith, a second-year computer applications and personal finance teacher at Riverton Middle School. He said having a mentor last year and this year has helped keep him from being “absolutely lost” as he navigates the field of education.

“Really, the big thing that has helped me is there are all these little things you don’t think about,” he said. “In college, they teach you how to teach, but they don’t really teach you about the day-to-day functions that can slip through, and (my mentor) really helped with that.”

By the numbers

The project seeks to train up to 75 mentors, each working with 25 or more new teachers each year. 

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