Teachers As Learners...

by Hal Portner

It Takes a Community to Induct a Teacher

In a healthy community, people help each other grow

It won't be long now. A new school year is about to begin. If this will be your first year as a teacher, welcome to the profession! If you are a veteran teacher, take a moment to remember what it was like when you were a new teacher about to begin your career: the excitement . . . and yes, the trepidation? As the new kid on the block, did you feel isolated from your colleagues, left to figure it all out on your own? Or perhaps you were fortunate enough to have had a mentor with whom you were able to share your thoughts and feelings as they piled up during those early days, and who helped you through those procedural nightmares. If so, you know and appreciate the value of such a professional relationship.

These days, most schools assign mentors to their new teachers. Unfortunately, in too many of these schools, inducting new teachers into the profession is left entirely in the hands of those mentors. The general attitude of too many veteran teachers is, "New teacher induction . . . what does that have to do with me? That's the mentor's responsibility, not mine. Right?"

Wrong! It takes a community to induct a teacher. Collegial support of induction and professional growth of beginning teachers is a hallmark of a healthy education community. In a healthy community, people help each other grow.

Every experienced educator has an obligation to share their knowledge, wisdom, and time with colleagues new to the profession. Here are some ways you, as a veteran teacher, can welcome your new colleagues, support their professional development, and model what it means to be a contributing member of a healthy education community.

Give the Gift of Welcome

We all like to feel welcome when coming into a new environment for the first time. One way you can help a new colleague feel at home is to present him or her with a welcoming gift. For example, a couple of books written especially for the beginning teacher would be much appreciated: The First Days of School by Harry and Rosemary Wong (Harry Wong Publications, 1999) and Being Mentored: A Guide for Protégés by Hal Portner (Corwin Press, Inc., 2002)

Another way to say, "Hello, we are glad you are here," is to collaborate with other "old-timers" and present new teachers with a welcome basket. What could you put into a new teacher's welcome basket? how about:

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a signed welcome card;

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a gift certificate to a teacher's store;

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a map of the school and district;

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a list of staff names, room numbers, and e-mail addresses;

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a cushion for their chair;

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a personalized coffee mug;

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a candy bar or box of raisins,

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inspirational quotes;

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a "blank book" journal;

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a plant;

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a bottle of aspirin; and

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an invitation to visit your classroom.

Give the Gift of Time

A new teacher needs the opportunity to observe experienced teachers teach. If a new teacher has a mentor, the mentor needs to observe his/her protégé teach and to meet with the protégé before and after the observation. All this takes time; usually more time than either mentor or protégé has available. Here is one way you can give the gift of time.

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Volunteer to be available two or three times a year during a preparation period to conduct a mentor's or beginning teacher's class in order to free up time for them to engage in mentoring activities. Notice I said "conduct" a class, not "take over" or "monitor." Meet with the new teacher a couple of days prior to teaching the class to discuss the lesson plan.

Give the Gift of Experience

If you are an accomplished teacher, you possess a valuable commodity that new teachers have yet to acquire: experience. You can go back into your memory banks to compare situations and figure out what to do; novices have no such stored experiences.

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Volunteer to make yourself available on occasion, and by request, to discuss a specific curriculum situation or instructional strategy with a new colleague. Also, consider facilitating a "brown-bag" discussion or presenting a workshop for beginning teachers in your area of expertise.

Give the Gift of Yourself

Becoming acclimated to a new job, a new culture, and new relationships takes time. Induction doesn't stop after the first few days of the school year--nor for that matter, after the first year. The process can be especially trying if you feel ignored and isolated from the rest of your professional colleagues. Whether you are a first year teacher or a seasoned veteran, you can combat professional isolation by sharing yourself with others. Here are some ways.

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Share your enthusiasm about teaching and learning.

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Engage in informal conversations, perhaps over coffee or lunch.

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Sit next to the new teacher during workshops, meetings, or school events.

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Every now and then, greet the new teacher with a smile and a "How are things going?" -- and mean it.

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Ask the new teacher to help you evaluate new material or to serve on a professional committee with you.

So, new kid on the block or seasoned veteran, keep this in mind as you welcome the new school year: In a healthy community, people help each other grow.

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