Welcome aboard!

Welcome aboard!

Gutloff, Karen

On her first day as a classroom teacher, with a slight case of stage fright, Jennifer Curtis stood front and center before 18 kindergartners.

“There was a bit of nervous panic,” says the 24-year-old. “I thought, `Wow, this is it! They’re looking at me to teach them everything they need to know!’ I realized then and there that this job is just as important as a doctor’s. You can’t afford to make a mistake.”

That’s a heavy load-but one Curtis didn’t have to carry alone. Her local NEA affiliate, the Weymouth Teachers Association in Massachusetts, runs a mentoring program that matched her with veteran teachers. Lori Goodine was a mentor to Curtis at the Ralph Talbot School.

“I didn’t know about pacing, how long to stay on a topic, and which activities were developmentally appropriate,” Curtis explains. “Lori and I would sit with our lesson plans to see if I was on the right track. She shared tons of curriculum materials with me.”

As a result, Curtis had a successful year in the classroom. That’s good for students, Curtis-and the profession. In the next 10 years, NEA Research estimates that hundreds of thousands of teachers will retire. Add to that dramatic increases in the student population, and experts say schools across the country may need to hire as many as two million new teachers by the year 2007.

It’s one thing to hire that many teachers-and another to keep them. Right now, between one-third and one-half of all new teachers leave the profession within their first five years.

That’s one reason Weymouth NEA members created their “Share the Wealth” mentoring program two years ago. By providing oneon-one men- A toring and monthly workshops on professional development topics, they hope to support new teachers, end classroom isolation, and improve the quality of teaching districtwide.

“Many new teachers have little knowledge of the curriculum,” says WTA President Ellie Hanlon, “and they don’t know some of the basics that we take for granted-like how to take a personal day or even how to order supplies.”

One-on-one mentors who work in the same building with their novice partner carry most of the mentoring load. But they get help from “theme mentors,” who help teachers grasp particular subjects such as technology, assessment, science, or math.

Loretta Patterson, a ninth grade teacher at Weymouth Junior High, is a computer mentor.

“I answer questions from other teachers, such as ‘What do you do when computers aren’t working?’ Or, ‘How do you set up the room to allow each student ample time with the computers and printers?’ ”

The mentoring and sharing continue during monthly workshops, held at a local steakhouse after school.

Over soft drinks and Buffalo wings, Weymouth teachers exchange ideas and information on resolving conflict in the classroom, working effectively with parents, or planning school field trips. One well-attended session was devoted to swapping lesson plans.

The most popular workshop by far: “Everything You Always Wanted to Know But Were Afraid To Ask.”

Questions flew fast and furious as new teachers got the inside scoop on everything from getting subs to satisfying requirements for recertification.

Share the Wealth has only been operating for two years, but the benefits from the program-and efforts like it-are clear. Better teaching.

The advice and counsel from veterans has helped new teachers become more knowledgeable and confident in the classroom.

Novice Heather Murphy, a 23year-old hired the year her school launched a new language arts curriculum and portfolio assessment system, can attest to that.

“I wasn’t sure what was expected of me,” Murphy says. “But my mentor, Kathy Wood ward, helped me create lesson plans to meet the new curriculum requirementsand that saved me.

Care and feeding of the profession.

As a result of the mentoring program, teachers, administrators, and the public increasingly see the Association promoting high teaching standards and professionalism.

Says veteran and mentor Erma LaPierre: “It serves our purpose to make sure we help our new teachers be the very best. We’re showing the public that we have high standards for teaching.”

A better image of the Association in the eyes of new members.

The mentoring program gives teachers with little prior union experience a chance to see the benefits of belonging to the Association.

Lisa Klein, a ninth grade teacher at Weymouth Junior High, had a negative perception of the union when she started work in the midst of a heated contract dispute.

“All I saw was fighting and bickering,” Klein recalls. That perception has changed since Klein joined the mentoring program.

“Besides all of the help the mentoring program has given me in the classroom, it’s also gotten me on the pro-union side,” she says. “I see more clearly where my money is going and how much the Association can really support you when you need it.”

That’s music to WTA President Ellie Hanlon’s ears.

“Hopefully, all of our new teachers will become actively involved in the Association, once they see what we’re trying to accomplish.”

A chance for veteran teachers to leave their mark on the profession.

“Many of us are slated to retire within the next 10 years,” Hanlon says. “Without a program like this, the things we’ve all learned and done will just leave with us.”

Copyright National Education Association Sep 1997

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