Program helps teachers master the classroom
Photos by Andrew Shurtleff
|Above: Amy Alvarado leads a team of advisers who work with new K-12 teachers to ensure they get the support and resources they need to become professionals. Left: TNE adviser Jackie Harris (far left) meets regularly with new teacher Laura Tucker in her classroom at Buford Middle School.
By Anne Bromley
When new teachers in Charlottesville/Albemarle schools need help with their classes, they now have experienced mentor-advisers to whom they can turn. U.Va.’s Teachers for a New Era program, working with local schools, has developed an introduction to the teaching profession through an extended orientation on the job. This two-year induction
period can be compared to a new doctor’s medical residency, said coordinator Amy Alvarado, a Curry School of Education alumna.
Alvarado leads a team of advisers who work with new K-12 teachers to ensure they get the support and resources they need to become
“Part of being professional includes having members set standards, provide some kind of mentoring and monitor their profession,”
Alvarado said. But this has not been the case for most teachers. The local induction program provides teachers with opportunities to engage in these processes and make a contribution to their profession. A joint U.Va. project to enhance the teaching profession involving the Curry School, Arts & Sciences and the provost’s office, the Teachers for a New Era program aims to build educator networks and relationships, as well as confidence and mastery in new teachers.
The induction program offers an enriched, structured mentoring: a partnership, in which the new teachers sort out concerns and problems with an experienced colleague, review and assess their students’ progress, work on professional portfolios and discuss teaching techniques. The program staff also provides basic school information.
The goal not only is to prepare teachers to do a better job, but also to keep them in the profession.
The rationale for a structured, long-term transition period is an earnest attempt to wrestle with a serious problem — 30 percent to 50 percent of teachers leave within the first five years of their jobs, Alvarado said.
“The idea is to create a systematic, guided entry into the profession, based on the notion that you’re not really ‘finished’ becoming a teacher just because you’ve finished a teacher preparation program. It is a continual process of becoming better and better.” Alvarado said.
Following the principles of the Carnegie Corp. of New York — which is funding the TNE program with a $5 million challenge grant made with other donors, the Ford and Annenberg foundations — the induction program is taking responsibility for the support of all new teachers in the area. Other parts of TNE cover teacher education, student teaching, interdisciplinary work through Universitywide “Common Courses,” assessments of teaching, and elevating and diversifying the profession.
“The education of teachers must be clinical, focused on real-world experiences,” TNE director Victor Luftig reported to U.Va.’s Board of
Visitors earlier this year.
Developing the program is a collaborative effort among local school administrators and teachers, TNE employees and faculty, and
administrators at U.Va. TNE staff members include experienced advisers who travel from school to school on the middle- and high-school levels, and those who are based in a particular elementary school. The other part of the program in development by U.Va. will follow Curry School graduates as they go to work in their first teaching jobs, no matter where they are located.
The new local teachers have different backgrounds. “Some don’t have any teacher preparation in a formal program,” Alvarado said. They may have finished one of the new, quicker certification programs and not had recent classroom experience, for example. Others have graduated from U.Va.’s successful five-year, combined bachelor’s and master’s in teaching program and have had a great deal of exposure to the classroom.
Jackie Harris is one of three full-time TNE advisers for secondary schools. Harris, who taught special education in Charlottesville for 10 years, mentors 16 program “novices.” She meets with each one weekly for 30 to 45 minutes.
Classroom management and school procedures were frequent topics at the beginning of the school year, Harris said.
“I spend a lot of time with the teachers — and with the children, too — when observing,” Harris said. Visiting the classroom, which can include videotaping for later discussion, is another of several induction activities. Others include gathering all of the novice teachers periodically for one-day workshops and pairing teachers in similar areas from different schools.
As an adviser working with the novice teachers, Harris assesses how they are doing, but not in an evaluative way.
“It’s important that mine is a nonevaluative role, and a confidential one,” Harris said. But she maintains the focus on academic achievement and student learning.
For special education teacher Laura Tucker, in her first teaching job at Buford Middle School in Charlottesville, having Harris as an adviser has been great, she said. Every week, Harris “gives me someone to bounce ideas off of and get resources from. She has a wealth of information,” Tucker said.
Another bonus: Tucker is teaching a classroom of children with mental retardation, and Harris’ special education teaching background makes her experience and advice especially helpful.
Harris also provides support and encouragement. “She helps me realize when I’m doing the right thing,” Tucker said. “I have a great relationship with Jackie, and I look forward to seeing it continue.”
Harris and Alvarado hope the Teachers for a New Era program will help talented individuals such as Tucker continue to excel in front of the classroom.