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Why Mentor?


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'm working with three other teachers to develop a mentoring program for new teachers in our district. Currently, we offer mentoring only for those new teachers who participate in our resident teacher programs, but we know how important it is to provide support for all beginning teachers.

One thing we have to determine is how to recruit people to serve as mentors and how to compensate them. We want high-quality mentors and, of course, those folks already are stretched thin doing good things for their students. Why would they want to take on the responsibility for a new teacher as well? What does the mentor get out of a relationship with a new teacher?

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As I ponder those questions, one thing becomes very clear to me as a full-time mentor for the middle level resident teacher program: I really like my job! Other folks on my staff sometimes say that they could never do my job. I hope they keep thinking that; if they knew the truth, they'd want this job for themselves! Working as a mentor to new teachers is surely one of the best things I've ever done.

What do I get out of being a mentor? What's in it for me?

This is the third year of the Resident Teacher Program at my school, and I treasure what each of the resident teachers I've worked with has brought to my life.

Of the six graduates of the program, one teaches here at Valley. The others are teaching in Fargo, North Dakota; Rochester, Minnesota; Vancouver, Washington; Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada; and Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany. How lucky I am to have connections to all those places! This past week, I heard from three of them by phone or e-mail.

Of the three new teachers currently involved in the program, one is planning on teaching in Virginia next year, one in Wisconsin, and one near here. As much as I will miss them, I look forward to hearing about their experiences in all those places.

I hope those nine new teachers know what an important part they have played in who I am as a teacher. Each is talented and unique, and I've learned from every one of them as I watched them model good teaching. If only I could combine all their many skills and abilities into my own teaching! Working with my resident teachers always makes me think -- and keeps me ever growing.

Working with them also has helped me develop connections with other folks within our school. I get to work with different teams of teachers and kids and support staff, people I rarely got to work with before. I also get to view our school from other perspectives than my own.

My resident teachers keep me young. They are all truly good people who have brought energy and optimism and enthusiasm into my life. They inspire me!

A line from the March 2002 issue of NEA Today magazine hangs on the wall in my office. It says, "Add a well-trained new teacher to a school where veterans are eager to share what they know -- and learn what they don't -- and good things happen." I've seen this in my school.

I don't think we'll have a difficult time persuading people to serve as mentors. Being a mentor can be as beneficial as being mentored. I am truly a better teacher and a better person for having served as a mentor.

Click here for biographical information and previous entries.

Article by Laurie Stenehjem
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