"If I didn't have my mentor Leslie, I don't know what I'd do. I'd probably lose my mind."
Holly Sanders, a first-year teacher, fully appreciates the mentor/protégé program in Palatine District 15. In fact, she doesn't know how novice teachers get by without one. "It's helped me tremendously," she says, "in everything from teaching strategies to behavior modification."
Leslie Solomon, a 30-year classroom veteran, is Holly's mentor and likewise, a staunch supporter of peer mentoring programs. The two teach 6th-grade classes across the hall from each other. "I'm there whenever she needs me," says Leslie. "We also meet regularly on Tuesdays. We talk about whatever is going on, for example, parent-teacher conferences and report cards."
Solomon notes that mentors help new teachers ease into "the real world" of teaching. New teachers, studies show, often encounter "really shock" in their first days on the job - and many eventually "drop out" of the profession. "One day, Holly came to me and said she was just having a heart attack, because she was so overwhelmed by work," recalls Solomon. "Well, I was having one of those days too. But we worked through it. I'm very fortunate. Holly wants to know how to become a better teacher."
That is the goal of the K-8 Palatine program, to share the wealth of experience from veteran teachers and to help new teachers succeed and flourish. Mentoring, school leaders point out, is really about "teacher quality."
National Board-certified teacher Carole Einhorn, an 18-year educator in Palatine 15, directs the district's Teacher Induction Program. The contractual program, part of Palatine's Teacher Leadership Academy, is in its first formal year of operation, replacing an informal "Helping Teachers" or "buddy system" approach. A 10-member committee-composed of teachers and principals-oversees the induction program.
Palatine District 15 welcomed 36 fresh-out-of college teachers this school year, and each one was assigned a specially trained mentor. The mentors receive a $500 stipend under the Classroom Teachers Council contract.
In addition to one-on-one assistance, the new teachers-or "proteges" as they are known, attend four workshops during the school year. The workshops cover professional development topics ranging from classroom management to cooperative learning, and communication with parents. Mentors and proteges also receive a 50-page handbook chock-full of checklists and tips.
The president of IEA's Palatine local, Pat Panfil, believes her 810-teacher, 20-site district benefits greatly from the Teacher Induction Program. "In the old days, new teachers were told "Here's your room, here's the books, do what you can," says 27-year teacher Panfil. "But today, you need an initiation. The kids have changed. Teaching is more complex today. What, with all the testing, site-based decision-making, budgets, and everything. It's a much harder job than it used to be. New teachers need that special assistance."