Archive for Thursday, January 16, 2003

Teachers teaching teachers

Mentoring program benefits first-time instructors, students

January 16, 2003

Beginning a teaching career green to the procedures of how a school operates can be a frustrating -- and even frightening -- experience. But experienced teachers in the De Soto USD 232 school district are working with "mentees" to make their transition from student to teacher smooth, benefiting both new teachers and their students.

Sabrina Gutowski, fourth-grade teacher at Mize Elementary School, is one teacher who has taken advantage of the mentoring program offered through the district. Gutowski did her student teaching at Mize and was fortunate enough to be offered a job in the same room in which she taught as she finished her degree. However, not everything about her new career was as familiar as her surroundings.

"It told me all the little odds and ends," Gutowski said. "Anytime I would do something that I just needed an extra 'OK,' (my mentor) was very helpful."

Gutowski's mentor is Mize third-grade teacher Jaime Englis. A fifth-year teacher in her third year with USD 232, Englis said she got the responsibility not only because she was willing, but also because of her experience. She spent her first two years teaching in the Kansas City, Kan., school district, and also was a mentee.

"Because I had such a wonderful mentor my first year, I knew what it meant to have one," Englis said. "I know how overwhelming it can be to be a first-year teacher. I know of so many who leave the profession, because it's so overwhelming."

In De Soto's program, a teacher with considerable knowledge of a school's inner workings takes a new teacher under his or her wing. With a checklist in hand provided by the district, the mentor coaches the mentee on daily responsibilities, projects and administrative procedures. The mentor and mentee also take turns observing classrooms.

Gutowski said the program benefited her by informing her of room locations in the building, and basic routines and procedures for such things as getting substitute teachers. It also went a long way in developing her organizational skills, Gutowski said, which was one of her biggest obstacles.

Englis also provided helpful explanations concerning what extra activities were available in the classroom, as well as how to get the room set up for the first day.

"That's not something they teach you at college," Gutowski said.

Being involved isn't all work and no play. The participants also develop friendships, which go a long way when a day hasn't turned out as planned. Also, the mentor and mentee have goals to plan "celebrations" to reward successes. A celebration might include heading to a movie or dining out and discussing the things that went right.

Although the primary responsibility may be to make a teacher feel secure in his or her new job, both agreed the primary beneficiaries were the students.

"I think having a teacher who feels confident in her abilities, students' problems, and how to problem solve is helpful," Englis said. "I just think it helps them know they have a teacher who knows how to hold it together and keep them organized."

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