‘We’re the problem-solvers’
Veteran journalism instructor selected to mentor beginning teachers
Craig — Katy Gray, a 23-year Moffat County High School journalism teacher, thumbs through her copy of the Colorado High School Activities Association guide. The pages bulge with sticky notes, which mark high schools sponsoring student newspapers.
“I’ve marked all the schools I could possibly work with,” Gray said.
Gray is a newly named mentor in a program aimed at reducing journalism teacher attrition.
Fifty percent of new journalism teachers are likely to quit the profession within a few years, according to the Journalism Education Association.
Gray’s interest in teaching journalism and experience as a journalism teacher in rural Colorado caught the attention of one of her superiors.
“I’ve been going to conferences saying, ‘What about the Western Slope?'” she said.
Gray’s vocal presence at these conferences caught the attention of Diane Gum, former executive director of the Colorado High School Press Association, noticed Gray at the conferences. Gum recommended Gray for a mentor training program piloted by the JEA.
The JEA has committed to investing $90,000 the next three years to training mentors for the program, the organization reported.
This month, Gray was one of 10 active and retired veteran high school yearbook and newspaper advisers from five states to take part in the new national program.
“I’m awed by the company I’m in,” Gray said.
The training came after a JEA survey found that nearly half of all new high school journalism teachers either switch subjects or quit teaching within their first five years.
Gray said the stresses of putting out a student publication contribute to the loss while new technology and standardized testing, among other factors, make the first few years of teaching difficult for new teachers in all subjects.
For schools, losing teachers means money and expertise lost, Gray added.
At a four-day conference in Philadelphia this month, Gray underwent a 10-hour training and attended workshops. The training taught her how to mentor new journalism teachers.
To continue her training, the JEA intends to send Gray to the second of its two annual conventions in April.
Gray is putting her newly gained knowledge to work. She’s preparing to contact teachers and school administrators within a 200-mile radius of Craig.
Her duties will include contacting and following up with new journalism teachers, providing them resources that could help them through their first years of teaching.
The kind of support she provides will be dictated by teacher needs.
“I don’t want to say, ‘This is what you need.’ I want to say, ‘What are your goals and how do we get there?'” Gray said.
“We’re the resource people for these” teachers, she added. “We’re the problem-solvers.”
Eventually, she would like to see local high schools, like those in Steamboat and Hayden, revive their student newspapers.
Gray brings more than two decades of experience at a high school newspaper to the position.
“I’ve dealt with a lot of issues with high school newspapers,” Gray said. “I don’t think new teachers are going to bring anything (that will) shock me.”
Gray teaches several subjects at the high school, including creative writing and cultural anthropology in addition to journalism. Born into a “teaching family,” Gray pursued a minor in journalism, edited for an agricultural magazine and contributed articles to several community newspapers.
Ultimately, she chose to become a teacher.
“I thought, ‘There’s plenty of good people as journalists,'” Gray said. “I thought I could do more as a teacher.”
Bridget Manley can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 207 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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