“Typically, with new teachers, it's not so much the understanding of the teaching standards, it's classroom management, parent communication, and tips for interacting with administration,” said Wake Forest Charter Academy Dean of Lower Elementary Connie Eastmann. “They want to know how to juggle it all and stay on task and get things done.”
At Wake Forest, there are 23 teachers participating in the school’s BTSP, with seven veteran teachers serving as mentors. The relationships include everything from classroom observations to quick check-ins during the school day to simply act as a sounding board for advice.
The program gives teachers a space to celebrate accomplishments yet talk through the challenges, Eastmann said, adding it’s the support for new teachers that everything will be OK and tomorrow is a new day.
Mentorship in Action
As a 34-year teaching veteran and former dean, Courtney Minnema is well-versed in how to create a gameplan for success.
“Your first two years are very physically, mentally, and emotionally draining,” said Minnema, who teaches sixth grade at Vanguard Charter Academy. “It does get better, though. It can be very overwhelming, so when we sit down for the first time, we talk through different things they need to get done before school starts.”
For Vanguard eighth-grade English language arts Teacher Shelby Sexton being paired with Minnema was exciting.
“I've been working towards this for five years,” Sexton said, adding she has worked with students in a lot of contexts but not as the lead teacher. “I'm really excited to create my own classroom atmosphere and bring that energy.”
Minnema plans to meet with Sexton at least once per week throughout the school year. What they talk about will largely be up to the first-year teacher, but one element is sure to make Sexton’s year a little easier: Minnema teaches sixth grade and Sexton teaches eighth. That will ensure Sexton’s students have learned the same framework Minnema is teaching Sexton.
“It’ll be nice that the students who she will be working with will have come from my class, too, so they will have the same expectations in her class as they had in mine,” Minnema said.
When we think of teachers starting their careers, we think of bright-faced college grads ready to conquer the world; however, in today’s world, non-traditional teachers are leading classrooms more and more. Many have changed professions in search of meaningful ways to impact their communities and give back because an educator once did the same for them.
Summerfield Charter Academy in North Carolina has seven teachers in their BTSP paired with seven veteran teachers. Dean of Middle School Maranda Robertson, who leads the program, said all their new teachers are either in their second or third year of mentorship.
“We do have quite a few fresh out of college teachers, but we've also had a large number of people coming into Summerfield as their second career. So, the importance of having a mentor, it just gives them a partner, really. Our focus with the teacher is to coach them, give them feedback, and support them. They have someone they feel like they can go to with questions they may not want to ask a leader.”
Robertson said the mentors take new teachers through the process of classroom setup, establishing behavior management and best ways to tackle the challenges that are sure to come. The goal is to prepare teachers and students for academic excellence.
“That problem solving, no matter how experienced you are, the more you actively practice it and stay in that mindset, it’s going to help you grow.”
Establishing a Parental Partnership
The best teachers know how to handle their classrooms with calm authority and understand the real challenge can often be parental partnerships. Mentors guide their new teachers to reach out to parents early and often, knowing that interaction will encourage engagement and show parents how much a teacher cares for their child.
“If you don't have good relationships with parents or students, things happen,” Eastmann, the Wake Forest dean said. “I encourage new teachers to be confident in what they know in order to receive the respect they deserve. It's often intimidating for a 23-year-old to sit in front of someone who is in their 40s and who is questioning their knowledge, dedication, or teaching techniques.
“It usually happens after the first parent-teacher meeting, but as soon as a parent realizes the teacher knows what they’re doing, things go pretty well.”
Want to learn more about how NHA supports teachers and students to achieve at National Heritage Academies partner-schools? Visit nhaschools.com.
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Vanguard Charter Academy is a tuition-free, public charter school in Wyoming, Michigan, serving students in Young 5s through eighth grade. It is part of the National Heritage Academies network, which includes over 100 tuition-free, public charter schools serving more than 65,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade across nine states. For more information, visit nhaschools.com.
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