Special education teacher Nicole Lee heads her district's mentoring program.
1. Your district and local union have negotiated a strong mentoring program. What makes it a success?
Choosing mentors is critical. They want to be part of the program because, just like the union, their success is our success. Mentors don't do it for the money; however, when it is negotiated within the contract with a stipend, there is a higher incentive to make the program strong. Also, we tailor our meetings around the specific needs of the interns. Giving them the freedom to set the agenda makes the program much more relevant and supportive.
2. You often match new teachers with mentors outside their subject area. Why?
The role of the mentor is to guide the intern through the nuances of the school and district, and support the intern in becoming the best teacher they can be. The mentor should be a safe person to talk to. If the mentor works within the intern's department, it might turn into a curriculum meeting or be difficult if there are issues within the department.
3. The North Country is experiencing teacher recruitment/retention difficulties. Do you think mentoring programs improve retention?
Having a mentor who has helped make you feel like part of the school and community can absolutely help keep teachers in the profession. If people feel part of something, it can often be more powerful than factors beyond our control, such as salary, preps, course load, etc.
4. This year you have 12 new teachers — that's almost one-quarter of your entire faculty. Do you have any trouble getting mentors?
Last year, I had enough people to meet the incoming new teacher needs. Halfway through the year we had openings for various reasons and I had to put out a call for more mentor applicants. The response was overwhelming. Many newer teachers were interested in becoming mentors because they had a positive mentoring experience themselves.
5. How do you introduce new members to the union?
We have a luncheon at an outside location. it's important to separate ourselves from the district and really delve into the many things we do and the various ways they can get involved. It is also important for our mentors to bring their interns to union meetings. Having someone they trust to sit with at a meeting is a major comfort to new teachers. We stress to our new teachers that, before they are tenured, the union is there to protect them and is rooting for them.