15 September 2006

What the Beginning Teacher Mentor Saw

I carved out some time this week to visit the seven beginning teachers in our district. Six of them are hard at work in the building where I spent the previous 10 years of my career, so it's a comfortable space for me to be. One of the teachers said that it helps her to know that I have a history with the building in case there are things about the culture she wants more information about.

I have to admit that I haven't been very enthusiastic about doing this program this year...and in some ways, I'm still not. I have far too much on my plate and nurturing beginners is too important to be treated as an "add-on." I also have to admit that I really enjoyed being in classrooms this week.

One of the best parts of being out and about has been the ability to spend some time looking at programs that are very different from science. Do I know anything about working with autistic 6 year olds? No. Have I ever instructed a set of students on using a computer program to create three dimensional objects? Not once. Could I tell you the best strategies for a introductory PE course? Absolutely not. But I can tell right away if kids feel safe...if they look happy...if the teacher is being able to develop positive relationships...whether or not there are high expectations for every student...if procedures and routines are in place...if the space is inviting and well-organized. In most cases, the noobs are off to a good start.

Are there things that were disappointing? Indeed, there were. But now is the time for me to help coach them and help them develop. I'm finding that it's a very fine line to tread. I am not an administrator nor evaluator. Anything that I see I can only talk about with the teacher alone---confidentiality is most important. My words of wisdom can be ignored and I need to couch them in such a way that they are not authoritarian and yet still get the point across. For example, giving kids half the period to just sit around is not okay, but I can't say it that way. Phrasing is everything. I find myself using "I wonder what would happen if..." or "Good teachers..." instead of the more blunt approach. I offer to be with them when they try a new strategy. I encourage them to spend time observing other teachers. I hope I can coach them into developing the kinds of habits and behaviours which help all students learn.

I know the statistics. I know that within two years, many beginning teachers (nationwide) will be lost from the profession...half of them by year five. The odds are against all of us, but I will try to do my part to help the newbies in my district. My hope is that I can help them not merely survive, but thrive.

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