Teaching the teachers

Mentor program helps educators be their best
Feb. 21, 2014 @ 06:25 PM

As a support coach for beginning teachers in Vance County Schools, Yvonne Campbell helps teachers overcome challenges in the classroom.

But Campbell says she learns as much from her teachers as they learn from her.

“Honestly, my first year being a coach, I enjoyed it, but I found I learned a lot from them, too,” she said. “And that’s why I came back as a coach because I really do learn from them.”

State law requires all beginning teachers to participate in the Beginning Teacher Support Program, a three-year induction period that involves a formal orientation, mentor support, observations and evaluation.

Vivian Bullock, staff development coordinator, said each beginning teacher in VCS is assigned a mentor and a support coach.

There are 51 trained mentors in Vance County Schools, and 11 more will receive training next month. The district has four support coaches — one for elementary, one for middle and two for high school teachers.

Tonesha Bennerson, a second-year teacher at Northern Vance High School, said she has benefited from this.

“I find this program to be very interesting because my coach is my old teacher, so if I ever have issues I can call her anytime,” Bennerson said of Campbell, a fellow Northern Vance teacher who taught Bennerson when she was a student at Eaton-Johnson Middle School.

Bennerson, who teaches parenting and child development, said she has trouble with classroom management, especially when it comes to dealing with her special needs students.

“I have behavioral issues with them and so she will coach me on how to modify their activities or cut down lessons for them to keep them focused,” she said.

First- and second-year teachers also have to attend teacher talk sessions every other month where they meet with their support coaches.

Shaqualla Dunbar, a first-year teacher at Northern Vance, said one teacher talk session about teaching children in poverty was particularly helpful.

“You are working with a totally different group of kids, and everybody is not built for it,” Dunbar said. “I think it’s important to know what you are getting into and how you need to adjust your thought process, your curriculum and interaction with the kids.”

Campbell said the talk session topics have improved since last year because the teachers had a chance to provide input.

“What we did was, last year, was we tried to see what they were interested in and we were able to add in and incorporate what we thought would be interesting for them this year,” Campbell said. “Compared from last year to this year, I think they like it better because they don’t have to come every month, and they know the topic in advance.”

Dunbar said the Beginning Teacher Support Program has proved useful when she is confronted with emails or phone calls from unhappy parents.

“Sometimes you might not communicate your thoughts in a professional way or as professional as you could have if you had gotten advice, so I use my mentors and administrators just to see what they would do and get an array of opinions,” she said.

Contact the writer at smansur@hendersondispatch.com.