New and experienced teachers alike have adjustments to make when starting in a new building. Understanding the culture of a school can make the transition much easier. At Community High School in West Chicago, teachers new to the district used to have inservice one day prior to the two days of meetings for returning staff. The new teacher days could have been described as "talking heads": the principal spoke, the superintendent, the dean, the director of guidance. . . a parade of faces and facts that blended into an overwhelming blurr.
About five years ago, the Staff Development Committee volunteered to take over half of the day's activities. Since that time, the program has grown into a full Mentor program with new teacher inservice as a sub-committee. Now, the teachers meet two full days with committee members and their mentors and participate in activities designed to ease their transition into their new environs.
This year, the first day began with an ice-breaking activity: "Find someone who...". After introductions, the new teachers were grouped using a Cooperative Learning structure and, using butcher paper and colored pen, we asked the groups to write all the questions they had about the school/job/community. Questions ranged from "When is the first pay day?" and "What's good in the cafeteria?" to "Does the building get locked up, or can I come in early or stay late to work?"
The first year we did this, the committee members had highlighted certain topics as being very important and made note of them in order to bring them up ourselves. We found, however, that most the the topics came up naturally through the questions. Committee members were able to work in aspects of the building culture during the answers: "Don't lose your keys," or "Bell-to-bell teaching is very important here."
Day One: Two short presentations were made regarding the Special Education and Billingual services in the building, two local issues that we felt have an impact on all our staff. The mentors joined their proteges for lunch. The pair then had the afternoon to spend in the protege's classroom or departmental area.
Day Two: The second day included the building tour, role plays of classroom maangement scenarios, a short presentation by the guidance department, and a short talk by the principal. The afternoon was set aside for individual work with the mentors.
Follow-up meetings are scheduled throughout the year, usually on inservice days. The new teachers are polled for any topics they would like to discuss, and the committee works up an agenda.
This program is a work in progress, and every year is a little different. Second year teachers have been invited to talk about their successes and roadblocks from the last year. This year we had a scavenger hunt throughout the building. Using feedback collected from the teachers in March, we begin planning the next year's program.
The feedback has been very positive. Teachers report being very much at ease when asking questions and that the question session clears up their immediate concerns. They feel that the presenters of the inservice are resources for them if they need an answer.
The 1995-1996 school year is our first with a true mentor program, and we hope that it is a success. Nonetheless, the committee believes that the first two days of inservice are the cornerstone to builing a positive environment for our new teachers.
Editorial Note: The above is a glimpse of a mentor program model in West Chicago, Illinois which shows what teachers can do when the work together. Send us an activity from your program to share with our global mentoring community.