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The Best Role of All


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. For the first -- and last -- time this year, they appear on Ed World together.

This is my third year working with the Grand Forks' Middle School Resident Teacher Program, and I'm beginning to recognize a pattern in the way my responsibilities as a mentor change over the course of the year.

I meet the new resident teachers soon after they're hired in the spring. During the following summer, the residents take a one-credit course designed to prepare them to teach at our school. Most of our residents have had their training in secondary education and don't have much experience with middle school. So part of what we do in the summer is teach them about middle school students and middle level philosophy. I also work with them on setting goals, planning units, and developing the procedures they will use in their classrooms. During that time, I fill the role of teacher.

As the opening of school grows closer, my role changes to that of orientation facilitator. What happens on the first day in our school? What kind of records does the attendance secretary want? How do we check books out from the school library? How do the teachers dress? How do they get lunch? Those kinds of questions become very important as opening day draws near.

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Once school starts, I feel more like an advisor and a cheerleader. I visit the residents' classrooms while they teach, look over their lesson plans, listen to their frustrations, remind them of their strengths, and offer ideas and suggestions.

By the end of the school year, my goal is to move into the role of trusted friend. I want the residents I've worked with to always feel comfortable coming to me for advice -- and I do the same with them. I want the residents to establish give-and-take relationships with their colleagues -- and I want the same for my own professional life. Our program is only one year long; I want the residents to learn to seek out other folks they can bounce around ideas with; people who will inspire each other to grow professionally.

I believe that my relationship with Kim is following this pattern. It hasn't been an easy few months for her. The kids have tested her and she's had moments of self-doubt. Other members of the staff and I have served as advisors and cheerleaders and she has listened carefully to what we had to offer. Now she is developing what she refers to as her "teacher self." She still seeks and welcomes ideas from others, but she is beginning to synthesize them into her own style. She is learning to trust her knowledge of her students, her subject matter, and herself in making decisions. We are becoming trusted friends and that's the best role of all.

Click here for biographical information and previous entries.

Article by Laurie Stenehjem
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