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Lessons Teachers Learn


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. Laurie and first-year teacher Kimberly Johnson share their journal entries with Education World readers in alternating weeks.

I love learning new things. The older I get, the more clearly I see that -- which makes teaching a terrific occupation for me. In my last notebook entry, I mentioned that one of the real positives about teaching is that it never needs to be boring. Oh, yes, you don't have to tell me, there are teachers out there who are bored -- and boring -- but good teachers never feel bored for very long.

I know this sounds like a public relations phrase, but I really like to think of Valley Middle School as a community of learners. It's exciting to think of all the learning that goes on in our school each day -- and probably no one learns more in the course of a year than our new teachers.

Kim wrote last week about a meeting we had with one of her students. The student -- I'll call her Lisa -- was not only failing Kim's class; Lisa's behavior was unacceptable too. She would sit in class without any work in front of her, talk to her friends, make comments about Kim, and engage in all those seventh-grade behaviors that most bother teachers. Kim had tried several strategies with Lisa, from talking to her privately to having her spend a class period in the principal's office. Nothing seemed to be effective; Lisa's behavior actually seemed to be getting worse.

When I met with the Kim and Lisa, I certainly didn't perform any magic. I wasn't sure myself how things would turn out, but the meeting appears to have had a positive effect. I've thought about it since and tried to figure out what went right. Mainly, I just asked questions and tried to help Lisa talk calmly about her feelings and perceptions of what was happening in class. She often used emotionally charged words to describe her side of the issue, words that could make any teacher feel defensive and hurt. The message she was finally able to express to Kim, however, was that she cared a lot about how poorly she was doing in class; she just wasn't sure that Kim would know how to help her to do better.

The message Lisa's behavior was sending was just the opposite; that she didn't care at all how she was doing. When she understood that Lisa did care and she did want help, Kim could reassure her that she wanted to help Lisa succeed.

Many students, maybe middle school students especially, can't find the words to articulate what they mean. They rely on good teachers to help them figure out what they want to say. Learning to read beneath the surface of a student's words and actions, to see what he or she is really trying to express, is another of the many, many skills teachers need to master. Kim is well on her way to getting an A on that lesson.

Click here for biographical information and previous entries.

Join Discussion

Do you have comments, questions, or advice for Laurie and Kim? Would you like to talk about your own experiences with mentoring? Share your thoughts on "The First 180 Days: A Teacher and Her Mentor."

Article by Laurie Stenehjem
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