Education feature: First-year teachers settling in

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Karen Lenhart, 27, teaches third grade at Cameo Elementary School.

By Liliana Castillo: CNJ staff writer

Karen Lenhart didn’t always want to be a teacher. A month into teaching third grade at Cameo Elementary School, Lenhart can’t see herself doing anything else.

Lenhart is one of the 75 teachers hired this year in the Clovis Municipal Schools system.

“Studying criminal justice and psychology in college, I was on the path to becoming a counselor,” the 27-year-old said, sitting at a child-sized desk in her classroom.

After moving from Santa Rosa to Portales to study at Eastern New Mexico University, two things happened that sent Lenhart toward becoming a teacher.

She learned she enjoyed working with children when she worked at a group home in Clovis. She found her passion for teaching when training adults at the SEI call center.

“Just the feeling of teaching, of getting up there,” she said. “It’s a spark. It makes you feel alive.”

Lenhart said she was nervous starting her job. The students’ attitudes helped her.

“It was like auto-acceptance. They were like, “you’re my teacher and I like you.” Lenhart said. “I thought I was going to have to work my way in.”

While Lenhart’s passion for teaching came to her suddenly, Jimmy Marez spent 20 years wanting to be a teacher while he worked toward his teaching degree.

While Marez worked as a physical education assistant with Clovis Municipal Schools, and did a short stint at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Albuquerque, he felt that something was missing.

“Now that I’m teaching the missing link is fulfilled,” the Clovis native said. “My name is on the door and on the schedule. These are my kids.”

Marez, 43, teaches first grade at Sandia Elementary School.

“This has been my dream. It’s been hard getting here,” he said. “As a teacher, just walking into my classroom in the morning and seeing their faces looking up at me and starting the day with them, I love it,” Marez said.

For Melissa Chavers, being a new teacher is all about the people around her. Her students, fellow teachers and mentors help her get through her busy days.

Chavers, 21, teaches English as a second language and Spanish literature at Marshall Middle School. She is also a cheerleading coach.

Chavers said she never realized how much is involved in being a teacher.

“There is grading, there’s a form for everything. The kids are tested nonstop so there is a lot of planning,” she said.

Chavers said that everything she does as a teacher is worthwhile, however, when her students have the “ah, ha” moment.

“When their eyes are open, they want to do it, and I can guide them,” she said.