Tyra Murrieta

The pandemic of 2020 certainly didn’t help what has been a teacher shortage across the U.S., and Rio Rancho Public Schools is doing what it can to shore up its “inventory” of teachers.

Hence, the Teacher Intern Program, designed to help fill educator shortages.

Joe Harris Elementary first-grade teacher Tyra Murrieta is a teacher-intern.

“Originally, from what I understood, I was to be hired as a full-time substitute, and then hired pretty quickly,” said Murrieta, the wife of former KOB-TV sports anchor JP Murrieta. “It was so appealing to me because it was something I loved, and (I was) being able to do it full-time and start a second-career full-time.”

She’d been a teacher before, and then spent three years as an activities director at an assisted-living facility.

Tyra Murrieta grew up in Seattle and Texas, and met her husband in their first day of classes at Pepperdine University in 1989, where she obtained a degree in psychology.

The couple moved to New Mexico after JP obtained a job at KOBF-TV in Farmington, which led to a position at KOB-TV.

“We’ve been here 27 years,” she said, admitting her first career choice had been “to be a mom.”

She did that: Their son Jackson, a 2020 Rio Rancho High School graduate, is also enrolled at Pepperdine.

Murrieta found a job as an educational assistant at Corrales Elementary, where she worked for three years — “back in the good old days when they had kindergarten part-time,” she said. “It worked out perfect; I worked in the mornings when JP was home, and he worked in the afternoon.”

She followed that by teaching for 10 years at Kids Express, a preschool at Hoffmantown Church.

“I think the biggest thing (about teaching) is just the connection you make with kids and the impact you have on them,” Murrieta said.

After seeing a local story about the Teacher Intern Program at Rio Rancho Public Schools, she applied and was accepted.

“It was a total God-send because at the time our son had just graduated from high school; we mistakenly thought we were going to be empty-nesters, now I can do what I want to do,” she said.

Jackson Murrieta is still living at home, doing his college work online, which is what his mother is doing, in light of RRP’s decision to go all virtual until at least Jan. 19. Teaching in a virtual world is a new experience for Tyra.

“It’s something I’m not familiar with, but I’ve had a great team here at the school helping me and giving me pointers, so we all have to be flexible and do it together,” she said. “Everybody’s been adapting; nobody had taught in a pandemic and we’re all figuring it out together.”

Their leader, Principal Trent Heffner, knows how to get the best out of his staff, after his years as principal at Vista Grande Elementary.

“The best advice I received from Trent was to be flexible and have fun,” she said.

As far as participating in the Teacher Intern Program, she said, “I think it’s such a fantastic and wonderful opportunity to get into a career that so desperately needs teachers, and make a difference in kids’ lives.

“The district and the flow have been going well, so we can impact them safely,” noting she would prefer in-person teaching.

“I’m hoping the point of this (article) is to encourage other people to get into this program, because I believe it’s such an incredible opportunity to get involved with the schools and make a difference — especially for parents; if they’re having to be teachers, anyway, they might as well get paid for it.”

Heffner said Murrieta is a valued staffer at “The Joe,” the district’s new elementary school.

“She’s a natural,” he said. “She’s had experience, and (she’s) understanding how to identify standards and then basically creating material that helps determine those standards.”

Does working as a teacher intern interest you? There are openings, says Melissa Perez, RRPS communications manager.

“We currently have 67 teacher openings and we have hired 25 teacher interns,” she said.

RRPS Teacher-Intern Program information

Teacher interns are based at a Rio Rancho Public Schools Pre-K or elementary school. The pilot program offers a one-year, 182-day contract.

Minimum qualifications 

• Bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited college or university; and

• Current New Mexico Public Education Department teaching license or willingness to obtain an NMPED alternative-teaching license within 90 days of hire.

Essential job responsibilities

• Provide support and supervision in the classroom when the regular classroom teacher is out due to illness or attendance of professional development workshops;

• Fill in for classroom teachers or educational assistants in regular or special education classrooms as needed;

• Use and apply appropriate conflict resolution skills with students;

• Maintain positive attitude and ensure classroom environment is conducive to student learning;

• Maintain order in the assigned classroom and follow all lesson plans provided by classroom teacher;

• Communicate with classroom teacher regarding activities, discipline and lessons covered during the assignment;

• Assist teachers and educational assistants with classroom duties, constant supervision and small-group activities;

• Assist in caring for student needs, such as feeding, cleaning, diapering, transporting in wheelchairs and transferring to and from wheelchairs;

• Assist students who may be disruptive or combative;

• Assist with supervision of students on the playground, in the cafeteria, restrooms and hallways; and

• Possibly be assigned other duties based on the needs of the district during the term of employment.

For more information, contact Peggy Johnston at Peggy.Johnston@rrps.net.

Gary Herron | Observer staff writer