Mentors In The "Teachers For Chicago" Program

by Raymond J. Dagenais, Ed. D.

The room on the 4th floor of the Chicago Board of Education Offices was filled with the conversation of 40-50 people. Participants in the several small groups were intently engaged and it was obvious that these individuals knew how to handle themselves in such dialogue. John Moscinski, the retired director of the Chicago Public Schools initiative called Teachers for Chicago, explained that the group was discussing responses to some questions he had just posed to them. The program was designed to be an induction experience for prospective teachers.

Program Design
The goals of the Teachers for Chicago Program are to:
1. Recruit, train and develop effective teachers for the Chicago Public Schools.
2. Appeal to second career people who wish to teach.
3. Utilize the expertise of trained mentors to guide the new teacher's development.

Two years old, the program has generated high interest. This past year 750 people applied for 100 new openings. The first year of the program saw 1000 individuals seek out a spot. Currently, 47 mentors work with 185 interns (1st year) or residents (2nd year). The mentors are experienced Chicago Public School teachers who have been given "release" responsibilities to work with the aspiring teachers. Generally, each mentor is responsible for four interns/residents. Interns and residents attend graduate school during the evenings and on weekends to complete their educational certification requirements. During the school year, they are in charge of their own classrooms, with all the duties and responsibilities of a regular classroom teacher.

In order to capture the first person accounts of their mentoring experiences, the mentors were asked to complete a questionnaire related to their work. While logistics and resource support are extremely important components of this initiative, the survey was designed to explore the workings of the program as seen through the eyes of the mentor. Participant responses have been synthesized and organized according to the four questions comprising the survey. Personal quotations have been included to emphasize important responses.

What are your goals?
Questionnaire responses included attempting to establish a positive educational experience for the new teachers, promoting continued professional development, and encouraging independence on the part of the interns/residents by providing support for them. Dr. Mary McFarland-McPherson of Jones Metro says, "My goal is to turn on 'teaching lights' in the lives of all interns/residents." Several respondents addressed the mentee's perception of change and the important role a positive outlook can play in a successful experience.

Clement L. Williams, social studies department chair at Bowen High School, writes that his goal is, "to help a new generation of young people revamp the Chicago educational system. We need their energy, enthusiasm and idealism. Change is good for everybody."

The establishment of confidence and commitment to improved student learning is shared by Diane Cooper when she states her goals to be, "to motivate the interns into contributing to a profession that seriously needs a morale facelift and to seek their contributions based on a love of teaching child-ren to reach their potential."

What kinds of things are covered?
Among the kinds of things covered are mentor's personal experiences, effective discipline strategies and alternative teaching/learning approaches. "As a mentor I guide the new teachers in refining instruction so that the content of the lesson is in level and pertinent for the subject area. I also invest an extensive amount of time in improving the new teacher's classroom management, discipline and instructional skills," says Bernadette C. Beasly.

Betty J. Miller of Lindbloom Technical High School writes, "Team teaching, cooperative learning, and interdisciplinary planning are all examples of what I feel will help our students learn to take more responsibility for their own learning." Other items that are mentioned are identification of resource materials, working with parents and good communication and leadership skills. Debbie B. Gray comments on one of these skills. "While preparing the interns to work with our children, I always stress patience as a strategy."

How Have You Gone About Your Work?
Patricia Ann Johnson has, "used observation with a conference to highlight strengths and to work to remediate areas of weakness; (and has) established a climate of trust - so that comments to interns can be acted upon rather than interns being hostile to comments." The sharing of lesson plans, best lessons and teaching techniques based upon personal experience is extensively employed. Alice Crawford of Wendell Phillips Academy writes, "My role has been facilitative and supportive. I have tried to win them (since I am a new mentor) by giving them as much support and assistance as possible, offering advice only when necessary. I prefer them asking." And if Debra Ann Harvey employs role modeling as is used by other mentors, her mentees have undoubtedly come to understand her approach. In answer to the question, "How have you gone about your work?", she replies, "Zealously!"
What Otyhers Are Saying:
Administrators and teachers at the mentees' schools perceive these individuals as "good teachers" and "hard workers."   Christine Krupa reports that "My 2nd year interns have become self-relying, confident teachers."   Intern feedback to mentors has been positive. Mentees are establishing clubs and taking responsibility for their behavior as well as that of their students.   First year mentor Bernadine Harris writes, "A level of trust has been achieved. The interns feel comfortable in coming
to me with questions versus waiting until a situation has turned into a problem." One mentor reports that one intern whose class was out of control has restructured, gained control and has developed confidence.

The ultimate evidence will be the success of the students that these new teachers have taught. In the interim, the most reasonable measure of success might follow from John Moscinski's observation that, "Principals and mentors are very positive in their reports about these beginning teachers." And, as the interns and residents become mentors to their
students, student success will surely follow.