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Earlier this August, a group of eager beginning teachers met at Davenport Elementary in Lenoir to get acquainted with their central office mentors, staff, school board, and ultimately become part of the team at Caldwell County Schools.

Led by EdAmbassador Heather Puhl, this beginning teacher program is different from most models. Caldwell County has approximately 100 to 115 beginning teachers (BTs) between years one and three of service. At least twice a year, all BTs meet at two neutral locations that are not restricted by grade level or content area. These locations happen to be local churches that open their doors at no cost to the school system and redefine the purpose of a communal meeting space. In these meetings, the BTs develop connections across schools and content areas while also learning strategies and techniques to solicit student response at the beginning of the year and build leadership at the close of the year. 

Puhl streamlined components of the beginning teacher program with the National Board Architecture of Accomplished Teaching. Upon completion of their third year of service, BTs are eligible to apply for National Board certification. All BTs in the county are provided access to National Board training and support at no cost to themselves. In addition to the two yearly meetings, all BTs are provided formalized support on a bi-weekly basis.

Third grade teacher Melissa Gilchrist. George Nate Barilich/EducationNC

On their first day on the job, the BTs were not only welcomed but also had the opportunity to shop for free school supplies for disadvantaged students at a local nonprofit called Teacher Treasures. They were then given a history lesson at the Caldwell County History Museum, which prides itself on its deep Appalachian heritage and pays homage to its musical roots including Joe Robinson, a former principal oboist of the New York Philharmonic. 

Lenior High School band uniforms in the Caldwell County History Museum. George Nate Barilich/EducationNC

Melissa Gilchrist, a third grade teacher at Collettsville School, shared, “I became a teacher assistant and really loved being with other people’s children too. I love third grade because they’re so excitable. They still want to hug you, still want to love you, and they love to learn. That’s just so exciting to come into work every day and see their little faces light up.”

George Barilich

George “Nate” Barilich is an English and film teacher at Enloe Magnet High School in Raleigh. He also serves as director of Enloe Charity Ball leading high school students in local philanthropy. He is a graduate of North Carolina State University, a North Carolina Teaching Fellow, and a member of the inaugural class of Jamie Kirk Hahn Foundation Fellows. Nate currently serves as an Executive Fellow at EducationNC. Raised in Onslow County, Nate loves all things Eastern North Carolina: salt water, oysters, and vinegar BBQ.