U of A Honors Mentor Teachers for Vital Support of Interns

Recent U of A graduate Melissa Blue surprised her mentor teacher, Ryan Finley, with a Teacher of the Year award at the end of the school year.
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Recent U of A graduate Melissa Blue surprised her mentor teacher, Ryan Finley, with a Teacher of the Year award at the end of the school year.

Four Northwest Arkansas public school teachers were named mentor teachers of the year for 2020-21.

Students in the U of A teacher-education program nominated each of the winners after serving as interns in their classrooms. The winning mentor teachers are Ryan Finley, Owl Creek Middle School in Fayetteville; Nichole Paquet-Smith, Bentonville High School; Adriana Rivera, Old Wire Elementary School in Rogers; and John Land, Janie Darr Elementary School in Rogers.

U of A teacher candidates spend either a semester or a full year as interns in public schools across the region for hands-on training before they have their own classrooms to manage. Being paired with great mentor educators is vital to a student teacher's success.

"The internship experience is critical in developing future educators, and the partnerships with our local schools are vital to their success," said J.L. Jennings, director of field placement for the Office of Teacher Education in the College of Education and Health Professions. "We are grateful for the mentors who pour their time and energy into these future teachers, especially this year with the challenges of COVID-19."

Mentor teacher Nichole Paquet-Smith, left, and Laura Hurst
Mentor teacher Nichole Paquet-Smith, left, and alumna Laura Hurst.
Ashley Wilson, left, and teacher mentor Adrian Wilson
Ashley Wilson, left, and teacher mentor Adrian Wilson.
Alexis Newman, left, and mentor teacher John Land
Alexis Newman, left, and mentor teacher John Land.

The U of A's Office of Teacher Education places approximately 900 students in nearly 15 school districts every year and also serves as the central source of information on Arkansas educator licensure requirements and regulations for students and constituents.

Melissa Blue, who graduated in the spring with a degree in special education, said in a nomination letter that mentor teacher Ryan Finley helped her set goals and was great at celebrating successes.

Blue said Finley serves as a role model to his middle school students and puts relationships before academics. He taught her to analyze strategies and alter lessons based on their effectiveness. As special education teachers, modifications are extremely important, she noted.

"He was always willing to listen, and he allowed me to come to my own conclusions when necessary," Blue added. "He took extra time to track my progress and show me areas in which I had grown."

Laura Hurst, who graduated from the Master of Arts in Teaching graduate program in May, nominated Nichole Paquet-Smith. Hurst said her mentor teacher excelled at getting to know individual students through one-on-one interviews and developmental games, which built a foundation of respect and trust throughput the school year. Hurst described Paquet-Smith as vivacious and upbeat.

"She is the Jo March of BHS," Hurst wrote. "Her attitude in the classroom has rubbed off on me, and I plan to take it with me into my future classroom."

Ashley Wilson, who also graduated from the Master of Arts in Teaching program in May, said she was impressed by how her mentor teacher, Adriana Rivera, connected lessons to students of various backgrounds, cultures and home lives. She said Rivera, who's bilingual, also uses technology to effectively engage students and offers daily one-on-one time to help students in need of extra instruction.

Wilson said Rivera took the time to help prepare her for future job interviews, allowed her to teach the class solo and gave her in-depth feedback that will inform her own classroom management.

Alexis Newman, who graduated in May with a degree in music education, nominated music teacher John Land. Newman said Land meets students where they are in their musical education and "brings them up to a level of performance that is unmatched by any music classroom I have observed."

Newman said Land treats his students with kindness and respect, and the classroom environment encourages students to explore music fully without fear of judgement.

She expressed gratitude for lessons learned as Land's mentee.

"What I appreciated most about John's guidance throughout the mentoring process is that he adjusted to my personal needs to address my growth areas as well as my strengths," Newman said. "I know John has had many interns, but there was never any question that his assignments, critiques and assessments of my work were completely customized for me."


Shannon G. Magsam, director of communications
College of Education and Health Professions
479-575-3138, magsam@uark.edu


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