Albert Lea School district’s mentor program helps with job transition

Published 10:42 am Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Adjusting to a new workplace can be challenging. For Albert Lea school district employees, the transition is being made easier with the help of veteran staff members.

Under the district’s mentor program, which has been in place for about 15 years, a mentor group meets once a month and discusses topics such as grading, attending meetings, technology, teacher mental health, evaluations, special education and state testing.

New teachers who attend the monthly meeting receive renewal units toward their licensure.

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New hires are given three days of training before school starts on district expectations and practices and are given a tour of the city.

Mentor coordinator Erin Gustafson said mentors and their mentees check in at least once a week, adding that the mentor can answer questions.

“There is always time for new teachers to ask questions, and help each other with different issues they are facing,” she said.

Second-grade teacher Taylor Meaney was assisted in her first year at the district by mentor coordinator Pam Jacobsen. — Sam Wilmes/Albert Lea Tribune

Second-grade teacher Taylor Meaney was assisted in her first year at the district by mentor coordinator Pam Jacobsen. — Sam Wilmes/Albert Lea Tribune

Instructional coaches support new teachers by modeling lessons, showing teaching strategies suggesting effective teaching methods.

Mentors must have more than three years of teaching experience and are given a stipend.

“I found the program to be a great place to meet with other new teachers, and get support from veteran teachers when I first started teaching in the district in 2011.” Gustafson said.

The mentor program changes slightly each year to meet the changing needs of new teachers and current trends in education, said coordinator Pam Jacobsen.

Jacobsen — a second-grade teacher at Hawthorne Elementary School — has been with the district for 29 years.

“It supports new teachers,” Jacobsen said of the program. “When you come in out of college, you have everything kind of in theory and in philosophy, and you have done your student teaching. But your first day in your new classroom, there is a steep learning curve. What you learn in theory is not always what you learn in practice. Just to have someone there helping you, answering questions you do not want to ask in front of a whole group and I think someone to show you what to do, instead of always just talking to you.”

Jacobsen thinks the program benefits students.

“The students don’t get to see the mentor program, but I think they get a lot of benefit out of an inexperienced teacher gaining knowledge from someone who has been there and done that,” she said.

Jacobsen said the district is supporting new teachers through the program.

“You want the veteran teachers to really be able to support those new teachers, and I think the district really honors that,” she said. 

Hawthorne second-grade teacher Taylor Meaney was mentored by Jacobsen during the 2015-16 school year.

Meaney said Jacobsen gave her someone to ask questions and look up to.

“She had great advice,” she said. “I definitely gained knowledge teaching, and I don’t think I would be where I am without her.”

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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