Mentoring key to success of new teachers - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Musical Chairs Mentoring key to success of new teachers

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Posted: Tuesday, July 13, 2010 3:09 pm | Updated: 11:31 am, Tue Jul 20, 2010.

About this series: The Tribune is following Ben Shafer as he prepares to dive into a new career as a high school music teacher. His first day of school is July 27 in the Chandler Unified School District.

How do I get a hold of a parent who won’t call back? What’s another way to address a class management issue?

When is payday?

New teachers meet their students throughout the next few weeks in the Valley. Like those students, they’ll be full of questions.

Showing new teachers support and connecting them with mentors is key to their success and the chance they’ll stay in the field for the long-run, administrators say.

Ben Shafer is one of those teachers. On July 27, Shafer, 31, starts his first full-time teaching position as director of choirs at Chandler’s Hamilton High School. Longtime director Cris Evans retired in May.

Shafer graduated in December with a master’s degree in music education. He learned about Evans’ position through his friend and mentor, Bart Evans, Cris’ husband. Bart Evans is choral director at Mesa’s Dobson High School, where Shafer completed his student teaching. The two first met several years ago in a summer choral program.

On Tuesday, Shafer joined 125 other teachers new to the Chandler Unified School District in the first day of a weeklong orientation. The program is designed to give teachers information about district policies, such as curriculum alignment, additional training, teacher resources, professional standards, parental interaction and more.

Some are veteran teachers arriving from other Arizona districts or locations around the country. Others are fresh out of college with their bachelor’s or master’s degrees.

Chandler High School principal Terry Williams said he has nine new teachers at his school this year.

Looking on as teachers introduced themselves and took their seats with their peers for the morning session of orientation, Williams said freshman teachers in the district — even those with veteran experience — bring a new “level of anticipation” to the campus each year.

“They’re new. They’re excited about being here. They have a lot of ideas,” Williams said. “That keeps the enthusiasm on campus.”

To assist them, Williams plans to connect each to a mentor from their subject departments. The teachers can also lean on one of the assistant principals.

“I have a string of department heads who will take them under their wings. They’re not just thrown out there. In my days, we were given a grade book and left alone. It was sink or swim,” he said. “When they know they have the support, they can feel comfortable, be innovative. That does nothing but help our kids.”

Williams said he still remembers his first teaching job and his boss, a principal who asked him, “Will you love my kids?” Williams said he still uses that line in interviews. It’s not meant as a “sickly sweet question,” but a way to gauge a teacher’s willingness to take care of students.

Students need to know that they “have to work hard to fail” in a class because a teacher is going to be in contact with them, in contact with parents and on top of what needs to be done to help them succeed, he said.

That’s Shafer’s goal as well. As he prepares for that first day of class, he said he has several plans in place: goals he wants the students to achieve the first year in choral music, goals he wants them to achieve prior to graduating from Hamilton, tentative class lessons.

But Shafer said he must be willing to throw out all those plans if they don’t address the needs of the students.

“I don’t think anything can really prepare you for that first day,” he said. “You plan twice as much as you think you can use and you plan on not using any of that.

“You can never plan who your kids are. You find out what the kids need most, where are they at? That first week I’ll be adjusting my curriculum based on the goals and figuring out how am I going to get them to that point? What do they need?”

Already, he’s picked out a bulk of the music the students will learn and perform. He’s sent letters home to families.

One area Shafer’s concerned about is the business aspect of running a choral program: fundraising, trips, competitions. He’s prepared to teach choral music concepts, but the “management of the choir” is completely new.

He’s already connected with another Chandler choral leader for direction. And he’ll lean on his peers in performing arts at Hamilton.

“I have to figure out how to not forget anything for all the activities we have planned to execute,” he said.

NEXT WEEK: Follow Ben Shafer in the final week before students arrive.

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