Aug. 28, 2002
<bt>Fourth-grade teacher Cathy Cozens returned to teaching four years ago and worked with another teacher who took her “under her wing,” she said.
“She guided me through the first year. I always felt comfortable going to her and asking her for help,” Cozens said. She moved to Loudoun a year later to encounter a similar experience through the mentoring program at Loudoun County Public Schools. A mentor teacher showed her the district’s policies, which were different than those for Houston, Texas schools.
“I had somebody I felt comfortable going to,” Cozens said, adding that she became a mentor this year to provide the same sort of experience for four fourth-grade teachers at Lowes Island Elementary School in Sterling, where she also teaches. One of the teachers she is mentoring is new to teaching. About her Cozens said, “If I can give her the same experience I had, I know she’ll love teaching. When she loves teaching, I know she’ll do a good job.”
COZENS is one of 198 mentors working for Loudoun schools this year, compared to 186 last year. The mentors received training over the summer on working with other adults, the needs of beginning teachers and on anything else the mentors and new hires identified as a need in a year-end evaluation of the program. The evaluation took a look at the program’s resources, the time mentors spent with new hires and the relationships the mentors developed with the hires.
Each year, the mentors and new hires are required to meet a minimum of seven times outside the school day.
“However, they often far exceed that amount of time. It all depends on the needs of the new hire,” said Barbara Hulver, teacher mentor specialist.
The mentors work with teachers new to teaching for the entire year, while teachers with experience are required to go through the program for the first quarter of the school year.
“Unless you have support, you can feel frustrated. When you have a mentor teacher, you can have somebody to go to when you run up against things you’re not too familiar with,” Cozens said.
Seventh-grade teacher Aurie Cline agreed. “It was nice to have somebody to go to for help,” said Cline, who started teaching at Sterling’s Seneca Ridge Middle School last year with two years teaching experience. She became a mentor for four teachers this year. “Teaching is pretty much the same, but there are different policies and procedures for each county.”
THE MENTORS are more directive with new hires at the beginning of the school year, providing information about curriculums, classroom management and grading practices and explaining what to do at parent conferences, Hulver said. “As the year goes by, it is hoped the new hires will direct agendas for the meeting, something to try in their classrooms,” she said. “We can help teachers gain that confidence and be successful in the first year. … They know they are turning to people who are genuinely interested in helping them succeed.”
The mentors are assigned to one to four teachers, including one teacher without any experience. The mentors receive a stipend for their work.