School staff members do not always see the value in programs mandated by state government but in the case of a mentoring program began last year, Cherokee teachers and administrators have high praise for the new teacher training program.
The mentoring program, overseen by Linda Abbott, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment, was the focus subject of the Cherokee Management Team (board members and administrators) Monday evening.
The highest praise of the program, which matches new teachers with experienced teachers over a two year period, came from first year teachers.
Cindy Taylor, middle school language arts teacher, and Elizabeth Wolf, resource room teacher, were present at the management team meeting to described their experiences with the program.
Taylor said it is great having someone to talk to about experiences, to know that others have had the same kinds of feelings before. She said the prospect of creating a portfolio, a new requirement for beginning teachers, was intimidating at first but she has gotten much helpful input.
She said that she has gotten help from more than just her individual mentor but from other teachers and from other staff members including secretaries, custodians and in particular from the middle school principal, Larry Weede.
Wolf said that the mentoring program in the Cherokee School District goes beyond the one on one assistance that is at the core of the program. It creates a community of support for new teachers. She credits Abbott with developing a great mentoring program.
"I don't have the fears that I might have had being a new teacher," Wolf said.
John Chalstrom, superintendent, said that the philosophy of school districts toward new teachers was general "sink or swim," creating a situation in which over 50 percent of new teachers left the profession within seven years. He said a sense of isolation is the biggest problem in the profession, especially at the high school level.
Jan Cook, communications, writing and debate teacher, is one of the trained mentors for the district.
"This is a tremendous program. It benefits both the person being mentored and the person doing the mentoring," Cook said.
Abbott said there are four new teachers this year and three teachers in the second year of the mentoring program. Mentors had previously gone through training in Sioux City but on Abbott's initiative, an in-house mentoring training program was developed both because of transportation issues and because questions raised during training were often specific to the district. Abbott said she received good support in developing the training program, particularly from administrators.
Weede said Abbott did a quality job of developing mentor training. "She doesn't turn out junk," Weede said.
Job mentoring is one part of changes in career development for teachers incorporated into state law. Continuing in the teaching field beyond a two year period (or three in special circumstances) now requires licensure upon successful completion of mentoring. Such requirements only apply to those entering the field after the recent law went into effect.
There is also mentoring not specifically for those seeking licensure. Abbott said that experienced teachers who are teaching for the first time in the district would benefit from mentoring, allowing them to become acclimated to the culture of the district. She said that budget restraints prevent that in the Cherokee district at this time.
Grants from a foundation pay for a separate program of mentoring for school administrators. Although Chadwick is not new at being a school administrator, having been a principal for a number of years, he is new at being a superintendent.
He has been assigned a mentor, the superintendent of the Sioux Center District.
"This is very worthwhile," Chalstrom said.