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Working Together to Keep Hope Alive!


Laurie Stenehjem, a graduate of North Dakota State University and a teacher with more than 25 years experience, is a mentor in the Grand Forks Middle School Resident Teacher Program.

Ahhh, yes. The honeymoon is over, as Kim wrote last week. That's probably as it should be. Now it's time to get down to the somewhat messier business of working and learning together.

When asked what concerns they have about teaching, my college students often mention handling student behavior. Learning to handle student behavior is like learning most other things. You can watch someone do it, you can read about it, you can talk about it ... but, in the end, you have to try it yourself. That's when you find out what you know and what you still need to know. I believe that managing student behavior is the area in which the value of mentoring new teachers is most apparent.

When you are in that classroom alone, dependent on your own ability to establish the climate of the room, you really need someone who can help you find solutions to the specific challenges you face. That's why it's so important for mentors to be available to new teachers on an ongoing basis. The mentor needs to be around when the questions and situations arise; teachers can't wait long to develop a plan to deal with an immediate problem.

Managing student behavior can be done well only when an atmosphere of respect and rapport has been established in the classroom. The students must trust that the teacher likes them and believes they can be successful. It's imperative for the teacher to send the message to a misbehaving student that he or she likes the student but dislikes the behavior. When teachers are new and unsure of their ability to handle all the varied requirements of teaching, it's easy to become frustrated with some behavior and inadvertently send the message that it's the student we don't like. Kids always need to know that their teachers have high hopes for them and are willing to help them achieve success.

Students also need to know that teachers are willing to enforce consequences along the road to achieving that success. Through the years, I learned to choose negative consequence that were just unpleasant or uncomfortable enough that students preferred to avoid them by choosing right behaviors. For example, my schedule as a classroom teacher allowed me to have students eat lunch with me when their behavior was inappropriate. During lunch, I chatted with them about a variety of things, not dwelling on the misbehavior. Usually by the end of the lunch period, however, we could both agree that they would prefer to eat in the lunchroom with their friends -- and that they knew how to make sure they would have that right in the future.

Kim said last week that she figured the first year of teaching was about experimentation, frustration, and hope. As teachers, we need to keep that hope alive in our students. As mentors, we need to keep that hope alive in our new teachers!

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Article by Laurie Stenehjem
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