- Southwood Elementary School
TA-to-teacher trend helps LCPS 'grow our own'
The granddaughter of a public school principal and the daughter of a teacher, Ivy Boyette spent so much time during her growing-up years in schools and classrooms, absorbing the minutiae of education, that she thought teaching would be the last thing she’d want to do as an adult.
Then she had what can only be called a change of heart.
In 2014, Boyette shelved a job in health care to take a position as a teacher assistant and return to college to earn her bachelor’s degree. This year she’s teaching fourth grade at Southwood Elementary.
Her way isn’t the usual way, but finding teachers who started out as teacher assistants is becoming less and less rare – and increasingly welcome in rural districts like LCPS that, by necessity, leave no stone unturned in teacher recruitment.
Among the 53 first-year teachers in the district this school year, 10 are former teacher assistants with LCPS. Last school year, there were four that followed that path, and the difference represents what LCPS Human Resources Director Pam Heath sees as a healthy trend.
“These are employees who’ve worked with us, they’ve been in the classroom, they’ve seen what the teacher does, they benefited from that experience and they knew that teaching was something they wanted to do,” Heath said.
“Several of them have multiple years of service with us; they’re veteran teacher assistants with us,” she said. “It’s only fair to reward them. Instead of their looking for a teacher position somewhere else, now that they have their degree, we want to be able to promote them and grow our own here.”
Boyette was studying toward a nursing degree at Lenoir Community College and working at the Kinston hospital when a clinical course in pediatric nursing showed her the future – not her future in nursing but in teaching. “I found I loved working with children and seeing the light bulb go off and being around them all the time,” she said.
She worked for nearly four years as a teacher assistant in kindergarten and first grade at Southwood before caving in to the encouragement of her coworkers, enrolling at the University of Mount Olive and earning the degree that would lead to her teaching position.
Credit these teachers with the dedication needed to earn a college degree while working a full-time job. But their learning days are hardly over. Like any first-year teacher, they are profiting from the professional development offered through the district’s Beginning Teacher Program and the support provided by its school-based mentoring program.
Lakita Murphy came to the classroom after more than 15 years with private firms that partner with public schools in educating children with behavioral and emotional issues and after obtaining a bachelor’s degree from Colorado Technical University. Her tenure as a teacher assistant in an exceptional children classroom at Southeast Elementary during the 2017-18 and 2018-19 school years morphed into a position as a fourth-grade teacher at Southeast this year.
“I’ve always helped the kids with their homework. I love kids and I love teaching,” she said. “I’d dabbled it in, but last year working as a TA really opened my eyes to see that maybe this is something I really did want to do. It made me want to know what more was out there.”
One of the things there’s more of, she’s found as a teacher, is responsibility. “Last year I was helping manage the class. I was in the background,” she said. “This year’s a big difference for me because I’m out front now.”
Any new teacher would probably say the same, but most of them would not be able to say they were adapting to new circumstances in a familiar place. The TA-to-teacher experience has the potential for making “new” much less discomforting.
“Just being here definitely helped me,” Murphy said. “Wherever you go, wherever you are, you always build relationships. Being that I was here as a teacher assistant and the kids got to see my face, it’s helped me build relationships with them. I was a familiar face.”
Seven of the 10 former TAs are teaching in schools where they previously worked – some for several years. That’s an advantage – and an education – not to be discounted, said Southwood’s Boyette.
“Ninety-nine percent of everything I learned about being a teacher, I learned by being a teacher assistant right here,” she said. “If every teacher could be an assistant to start with, they need to be. It prepares you for so much – organizational skills, classroom management skills, individualizing students.
“I wish I had done this sooner. I really do love where I’m at.”
(Top) Lakita Murphy worked as a teacher assistant at Southeast Elementary School before stepping up to become a fourth-grade teacher at Southeast. She’s one of 10 new teachers in the school district who started in education as teacher assistants.
Ivy Boyette reads to her fourth-grade students at Southwood Elementary, where she began her career with LCPS as a teacher assistant four years ago.