New Bibb County teachers receive mentoring

While Union Elementary School teacher LaRia Walker instructs a class of first-graders each day, she herself is learning the ropes as a first-year educator.

Walker, who recently graduated from Fort Valley State University, doesn’t have to go through her first year alone, though. She and several other new Union Elementary educators receive mentoring from Margaret Carr, an instructional coach at the school. The Bibb school district has been running a mentoring program for new teachers for more than 20 years.

“I have a heart for new teachers,” Carr said. “I feel it’s important to have someone to go talk to.”

Offering teachers support in the classroom is key to keeping them in the profession, said Melanique Floyd, a professional learning specialist in Bibb County.

About half of all new teachers leave the profession within five years, according to the National Education Association.

“We want to retain and keep new teachers. That is our goal,” Floyd said.

About 220 teachers, principals and other certified staff members in Bibb County left by the end of the 2011-12 school year, according to data from the school system. Among that number were the majority of teachers at Central and Westside high schools who taught math, a field for which many districts have trouble finding teachers.

Based on a list of new teachers and other certified staff -- not including principals -- approved by the Bibb school board during its July and August meetings, roughly three-quarters of them have five or fewer years of classroom experience.

With the district bringing in 100 to 125 new teachers a year on average, the number of new teachers coming to the district this year is higher than normal, Floyd said. More teachers have hit retirement or left the area this past year, she said.

Bibb County provides mentoring for teachers who are brand new to the profession -- the majority of new teachers in Bibb every year -- as well as those who have prior experience in another district but are new to Bibb County, Floyd said.

Teachers at Union and other schools meet once a month for group mentoring and have one-on-one training with a mentor assigned to them from their school.

Mentoring for new staff is a requirement of the federally funded Race to the Top reforms, Floyd said. Bibb County was already providing mentoring, but other requirements, such as keeping journals of their experiences, are new.

Kasey Gilliam, another first-grade teacher, was a student teacher at Union during this past spring semester. Even with that experience, having her own classroom is “different than it was in student teaching,” the Macon State College graduate said.

Walker and Gilliam said their mentors have been a source of guidance throughout the day as they develop their skills in classroom management and learn to manage paperwork.

“I feel welcome, and they answer me no matter how many questions (I) have,” Walker said.

Even Adrienne Dillard, who is now Union’s media specialist after 22 years working with college students at Macon State, said there are things to get used to, such as learning to work with younger students.

However, she was drawn to working in an elementary school because of the potential impact she could have on those students, as opposed to later years when they may need remedial help.

“It’s nice to know you’re part of the students’ future,” she said. “Whatever you do will follow them for the rest of their life.”

While Bibb schools must follow certain guidelines for their programs, such as providing group mentoring sessions, individual schools can provide their own touches, too.

The new staff members at Union received a basket of goodies on the first day of school, a small gesture that provided them some reassurance on a busy day, some of them said.

Through the stress of starting the school year, Dillard said getting a Coca-Cola and a Snickers bar from the goodie basket meant “you could take a deep breath.”

Bibb County also offers training for teachers who want to mentor new educators. Those who have been in the classroom for a minimum of three full years can undergo summer training to receive the credentials to be a teacher support specialist, Floyd said. Those interested in doing so need to undergo a 100-hour course, made up of 50 hours of instruction time during the summer and 50 hours of internship time by attending new orientation teacher meetings, shadowing mentors and other activities, according to information from the school system.

“It’s an intense program, but it’s excellent,” Carr said.

To contact writer Andrea Castillo, call 744-4331.