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Mentoring program helps new teachers

When it comes to finding and hiring talented new teachers, it's a competitive world out there with some big city schools able to field a dozen representatives or offer huge sign-on bonuses during recruitment fairs.

In order to compete, McDuffie County offers something those big schools can't -- a sense of belonging.

Margie Waters, assistant superintendent for human resources, said teachers appreciate the genuine, warm welcome they get through programs like a comprehensive new teacher orientation at the start of the school year and a first class mentoring program in place throughout the year.

The mentoring program is a voluntary activity that matches new teachers with veteran teachers who are skilled, trained and certified to provide support, Dr. Waters said.

The mentors convey enthusiasm for teaching and an authentic interest in their mentees, who benefit from the support and help during their first year on the job. The first three years determine whether a person remains in the field of education, and the district wants to make those important years positive for teachers.

"We are trying to maintain and keep our teachers in this district," said Dr. Waters who regularly evaluates the mentoring program and meets with both new and experienced teachers.

New teachers joined their mentors and Dr. Waters recently at the Board of Education Office to discuss the program as the school year winds down.

New teacher Jessica Keener of Norris Elementary School said the mentoring program was positive and practical.

"I've found it very beneficial. The best thing was knowing there was one person to fall back on," said Ms. Keener of her mentor, Susan McFadyen, a fourth grade teacher at Norris.

"She knows if she needs me, I'm available," said Ms. McFadyen.

"There is something to be said about being in a district like this where everyone is so supportive in and out of the classroom," said Countess Wilkerson, reading teacher at Crossroads.

"That is one of the selling points -- we don't leave you alone. If there is a need, we are supportive of one another," said Ms. Wilkerson, who said she had been "doubly blessed" to mentor two new teachers this year.

In fact, McDuffie County schools offer such a feeling of kinship some teachers choose to make an inconvenient commute just to remain part of the system.

Monica Perrin of Thomson Elementary School drives more than an hour each way from her home in South Carolina because she wants to stay in the McDuffie County system.

"A lot of why I've stayed here is the support and love. I like that about the district," she said.

Some teachers even settle on the district as the place they want to be before they get their certificates. Several who have completed student teaching in local schools have returned as full fledged teachers, while others who attended local schools had a dream of returning as teachers.

Felicia Rivers, a Thomson High School graduate, remembers thinking "I wouldn't mind coming back here to teach."

She said she was thrilled to land a local position, and her first year teaching was made more positive through the support of her mentor, Steve Smith.

"We help each other out. We've had a good year," said Mr. Smith, a Thomson Middle School teacher. Other veteran teachers agreed that they got as much from the program as the new teachers.

New teachers said they would like to one day serve as mentors, too, helping others in the way they have been helped.

"I remember being a mentee," said Norris Elementary's Tamara Hammond, who has taught for 11 years.

"It's a calling. I appreciated the guidance and I'm glad to give that back," she said.

Web posted on Thursday, May 5, 2005


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Updated: 04-Nov-2010 10:01

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