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Everyone Needs a Good Mentor Sometimes!


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.

Because I was out of the building at the end of last week, I didn't learn about Kim's difficulty with "Jake" until she e-mailed me her journal entry over the weekend. I could tell that her "frustration, confusion, and uncertainty" were calls for help. I also knew that her stress level was already high because of her heavy load at the university on top of her responsibilities at Valley Middle. This was a time when support was very important. It also was critical that Kim have a clear plan in place before Jake's English class on Monday. I didn't wait until Monday to speak to her.

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The principal had already been involved in the early stages of the problem, so we involved him again. His suggestion was to develop a behavior plan for Jake. He asked Kim to identify the three behaviors that were causing Jake the most difficulty in her class and to write those three things, and the requirements for changing those behaviors, into a chart.

The plan was that, for each class period, Jake could earn up to six points for meeting the requirements in the three areas. If he earned at least 20 points for the week, he would receive an agreed-upon reward at school as well as a reward at home. Consequences were in place if Jake failed to earn at least 4 points a day.

I covered the beginning of Kim's class on Monday while she and Jake met with the principal to go over the plan and sign it. Jake's mom was also consulted.

The plan worked beautifully for the first part of the week. Unfortunately, Jake is smart. (Well, it's unfortunate in the short run at least, although it's surely fortunate for the long haul!) He's able to control his behavior enough to figure out that 20 points a week is a low enough goal to allow him some "wriggle room." He also made sure that he took full advantage of it!

The challenge now is to meet with him again and revise the plan for next week -- to allow him to grow even more in learning to control his behavior. Of course, the whole issue of rewards and weaning him off them will define future challenges too. However, the plan did provide Kim and Jake with a structure they can use to work toward a better experience in English class for Jake -- and for Kim!

When Kim and I had a chance to talk over the whole experience, I asked her to think back over what had happened that day after school and to consider what other options she had had in handling the boys in her room. We talked about other ways she might have responded and what the outcomes of those responses might have been.

That kind of reflection, after the heat of the moment has passed, is very important in helping us feel comfortable about how we might handle similar situations in the future. When emotional events happen, everyone needs a good mentor (no matter how many years experience we have!) and good administrative support to help us find peace of mind.

Click here for biographical information and previous entries.

Article by Laurie Stenehjem
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