Tulsa Public Schools hires mentors to help young teachers
BY ANDREA EGER World Staff Writer
Saturday, September 22, 2012
9/22/12 at 7:07 AM
Rookie teachers at Tulsa Public Schools now have new allies to turn to as they work through their first two years and face the unique challenges of an urban school environment.
Tulsa Novice Teacher Mentors are a group of the school district's most talented, veteran teachers who are paired with first-time teachers of core curriculum subjects.
"I honestly don't know what I would do without her," Hale High School English teacher Amanda Trower said of her mentor, Claire Robertson. "Our administrators have so much to focus on that they don't have time to help me with everything she helps me with."
TPS has allocated a portion of its federal funding to train novice teacher mentors through the New Teacher Center, a national nonprofit dedicated to improving student learning by accelerating the effectiveness of new teachers and school leaders.
Mentors work full-time helping new teachers learn how to analyze their students' work and adjust their instruction accordingly, work side-by-side with them on lesson planning, and provide weekly feedback based on classroom observation. They also offer master's knowledge of subject matter and advice on classroom management.
Carolyn Thomas, a mentor teacher who was 2010 TPS Teacher of the Year, said the aim is not to turn a protege into a "mini me."
"We were guides to our students, led them and helped them find their own strengths. We're doing the same with teachers now, and since we're learning how to be mentors, that means knowing when to be instructive, when to collaborate and when to be facilitators by asking leading questions," Thomas said.
Beyond their basic job descriptions, mentors also gladly offer emotional support.
"Every single one of us has had a new teacher come to us in tears, frustrated," Thomas said. "They are candid with us because they know everything we discuss is confidential. We are not there to evaluate them - we're there to guide them and help them."
National studies have repeatedly shown that new teachers in urban school districts are often placed in difficult assignments in hard-to-staff school sites. And nearly 50 percent leave the profession within the first five years.
Trower said her first year was such a trial by fire that she's sure she can get through anything now.
She was hired fresh out of Northeastern State University in fall 2011 to help Hale accommodate hundreds of students displaced by an overhaul at nearby Rogers High School. But Trower didn't receive a full-time position until November, so there were no classrooms available and she had to travel from classroom to classroom - and even the library for one period a day - with all of her instructional materials and classroom textbooks loaded on a wheeled cart.
"I didn't have my own classroom," she said laughing. "We are required to post classroom procedures, so I had mine taped to my cart."
She attributes her survival to her fellow teachers at Hale, who graciously shared their classrooms with her, and to Robertson's instruction and collaboration.
When she was assigned to switch this year from teaching juniors and seniors to ninth-grade English, she called her mentor, who has taught high school English since 1985.
"I've never taught this before, so we met before school even started and started working on an action plan for younger students who have not settled into high school yet," said Trower. "She's a sounding board and my biggest advocate."
At their meeting this week, the two went over everything from a new seating chart Trower is introducing to address some behavior issues to her students' upcoming writing assignments and even the sensitive matter of how to tell a parent that their child stole supplies from her room.
"Let's talk about what you're going to say because that conversation could be difficult," Robertson told her. "Remember, they need to understand you're concerned about their son and not your stuff. Try to think of something positive about him to share with them, and tell your student that you will start with a clean slate after this."
Another mentor, Jason Arant, said classroom observation and even videotaping lessons is one of their most powerful teaching tools.
"We ask leading questions and do follow-up interviews. With the video lessons, they can see the difference in how they're progressing," Arant said. "It's so important that they feel that success."
Jane Barnes, director of professional development at TPS, said the mentors are trying to reach teachers beyond just the novices they work with by sharing important instructional resources and research through a regular newsletter and their "Tulsa Novice Teachers" Facebook page.
Tulsa Novice Teacher Mentors in 2011-12
Novice teachers served .............................. 141
Students affected ................. 5,302 of 41,501
Schools served ....................................55 of 75
Full-time teacher mentors ............................8
Average teaching experience ..........14 years
Source: Tulsa Public Schools
Original Print Headline: A mentor to lean on
Andrea Eger 918-581-8470
Mentor Claire Robertson meets with Amanda Trower (left), a ninth-grade English teacher at Hale High School. Robertson is part of the district's program to mentor teachers who are early in their careers. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World
Amanda Trower, a ninth-grade English teacher at Hale High School, talks with her mentor as part of a program at Tulsa Public Schools that pairs veteran teachers with novices. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World