Contact: Lisa Sollie
MERIDIAN, Miss.–Recent graduates from Mississippi State University-Meridian’s inaugural Professional Advancement Network for Teacher Assistants initiative are filling a void this semester as classroom teachers in local schools.
With many school administrators having difficulty finding qualified teachers in the middle of the school year, Quitman Upper Elementary School Principal Leah Ivey said the opportunity to hire PANTA graduates Dre’Anna Davis and Tera Yelverton was a huge blessing.
Implemented in 2017, PANTA helps teacher assistants complete the educational requirements to become licensed teachers.
December graduates Davis and Yelverton are now fifth- and third-grade teachers respectively at Quitman Upper Elementary. Both part of the PANTA initiative’s first cohort, they are former kindergarten assistants at Quitman Lower Elementary in the Quitman School District.
“I’m grateful that we didn’t have to settle for a short-term fix,” Ivey said. “The fact that these ladies had already proven themselves in the classroom and they knew procedures and policies of the district ensured as smooth a transition as we could have possibly expected. I couldn’t have asked for a better solution.”
Yelverton, a teacher assistant for the past 11 years, knew she wanted to be a certified teacher five years ago, but did not pursue a degree at that time because she needed to keep working.
“What drew me to the PANTA initiative and MSU-Meridian was knowing I could continue to work while going to school, even when it came time to do my internship,” Yelverton said.
Davis considered going into teaching in 2016 while a senior at Quitman High School.
“I used to help out in one of my teachers’ classrooms during my free period and thought it would be something I’d like to do,” Davis said. “But I was also interested in pursuing a degree in physical therapy.”
A meeting with her advisor at Jones College in Ellisville led her into teacher education.
Davis started taking classes at MSU-Meridian in the summer of 2017 after graduating from Jones and marrying. To help pay for her schooling, she applied for a teacher assistant job and was hired at Quitman Lower Elementary for the fall and then became part of the PANTA cohort.
According to Ivey, both Davis and Yelverton already had made a name for themselves at Quitman Lower Elementary as people who were ready for more.
“They did a great job in the capacity they were in but everyone around them, including Principal Amanda Allen, saw they also had gifts and the potential to have their own classroom one day,” Ivey said. “The PANTA initiative provides a way for administrators to identify staff like Tera and Dre’Anna, encourage them to enroll in elementary education and still retain them in our school districts.”
Working in the classroom while studying to be an educator provided Davis, Yelverton and other teacher assistants a front-row seat to the teaching profession, something other education majors may not have.
“When it came time for my internship, I felt like I was already ahead of the curve,” Yelverton said. “As an employee of the district, I knew the teachers I’d be working with, as well as the district’s policies, and I even knew some of the children. That knowledge took away the fear that many student interns feel when stepping into a school for the first time.”
“There is a definite advantage that I see with the PANTA initiative,” Ivey said. “I don’t think there is anything that can replace the all-day, everyday experience from the beginning of the school year to the end—and that’s the advantage teacher assistants or other paraprofessionals working on their elementary education degrees bring to the table.”
Still, for both Davis and Yelverton, becoming the lead classroom teacher is a transition that takes some adjustment.
“It was an eye-opening experience to me, particularly the time it takes to plan out your lessons and activities for each day,” Davis said. “As a teacher assistant, whatever the teacher asked me to do, I did. As the teacher, the responsibility is now in your hands—you have data to look at, and you need to figure out how to differentiate your lessons to reach each child to make sure they are achieving their goals.”
Yelverton added, “I’ve been an assistant for over 11 years and every one of the educators I worked with were so different. I’ve had to figure out what works for me and develop my own teaching style. I’ve also had to take into account the group of kids I’m working with and adapt to their needs and learning styles as well.”
Ivey said the PANTA initiative is a win-win for everyone.
“The assistant who becomes a certified teacher receives a salary increase and their own classroom, and administrators get seasoned people they know will be able to handle their classroom and work together as a team.”
To learn more about the PANTA initiative, contact Kevin Entrekin, MSU-Meridian academic advisor, at 601-484-0244 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more about MSU-Meridian, visit meridian.msstate.edu.
MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu.