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Native Pathways to Education
Alaska Native Cultural Resources
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Lessons Taught, Lessons Learned Vol. II

The Mentor Teacher Program


by Judy Charles
North Slope Borough School District


The Mentor Teacher Program has been a well-organized, well-presented opportunity for orienting new teachers to rural schools throughout the state. It has offered a collegial approach to staff development and interaction which includes a process for follow-up for all participants. This program targets a common problem for all bush schools and one that insidiously influences many aspects of the potential for successful schools in rural Alaska, that is, the high rate of staff turnover. 

The frequency of turnover of staff in rural schools across the state presents many problems: It all but eliminates any sense of history or tradition-building within a school. It subjects schools and districts to constant bouts of reorganization. It makes implementation of many programs very difficult. High turnover undermines continuity for school districts and creates the problem of continuous redoing of a variety of school related programs because of a lack of consistent methods to insure stability of a program as individuals move on.

The Mentor Teacher Program addresses this issue in many ways. First, it brings a team of people together from each school. The principal participates right along with the new teacher and the experienced mentor teacher. This involvement of the school principal insures support for the program and ongoing recognition of the mentor's training and ability. It provides some selection criteria to assure that an experienced mentor teacher will be chosen. This teacher is aware of the district's history and has an understanding of the values and norms of the school. The teacher is expected to be a master at using the kind of teaching methods and curriculum ascribed by the district. Because of the longevity of most mentor teachers, it is anticipated they will return to the district and continue working there in the future.

New teachers are selected because they are new - new to the district and new to rural Alaska. Many are new to the teaching profession as well. These teachers have the advantage of gaining knowledge from the other two team members who provide a head start .for these new professionals.

The implementation process for any new program in a school is critical to the potential success of that program. Even in a program with a basically sound foundation, it is in the process of implementation that the seeds are sown for success or failure. Without feedback, support, and other elements that foster a spirit of ongoing renewal, the best program can get pushed to the back of the agenda and eventually disappear. The Mentor Teacher Program allows the principal and the mentor teacher to identify areas of instructional methods, classroom management, cultural awareness, and curriculum that should be shared. It provides an initial opportunity to inform and educate the new teacher. It offers a format to address needs specific to that teacher and that particular teaching situation. The program offers training that fosters collegiality which allows for progressive learning and feedback of necessary skills throughout the year.

New teachers secure in their knowledge of what is expected of them, gaining credible, nonthreatening feedback on their performance, can be much more comfortable in their jobs and may not accumulate the frustrations that often push teachers to leave after a short time.

At the week-long mentor workshop in Sitka during the summer of 1988, a bonding process occurred and carried over throughout the entire school year, allowing the teacher coming to a new place to already have a sense of established friendships and belonging. This initial meeting helped the new person come into the district with some inside information and helped to lessen the sense of isolation. This feeling of involvement from the beginning results in teachers feeling more a part of the school and, in the end, may influence their decision to continue at that school. Along with expertise, the mentor teacher provides a trusted ear to allow the new teacher to share problems and vent frustrations without fear of recrimination.

The proactive approach to discipline and the "Catch Them Being Good" information shared at the Sitka workshop was very appropriate to open the discussion on the unique behaviors and culturally related situations the new teachers would encounter in their new jobs. New teachers want to appear competent and in control, but they often need support and skills to avoid being insensitive in their approaches. They are not always comfortable asking for intervention from other teachers or the administration. Because of this, they can isolate themselves with their problems until they are under severe stress. The proactive approach gives a common language to principals, new teachers, and the mentor teachers for discussions on and solutions to problems of behavior.

The opportunity for planning a year-long calendar of resources, contacts, and activities provides for a sense of stability for the new teachers. They can rest assured a safety net is in place and they will continue to have a professional confidant in their mentor. As this trust grows through the year, it provides the new teacher with a stronger commitment to the school.

The Mentor Teacher Program provides a model for developmental supervision. It provides opportunities for professional growth and leadership that is integral to the teaching process for both new and mentor teachers. Instead of emphasizing control, the model stresses growth. The mentor is seen as a gentle guide, not as a strict supervisor. The two teachers work together to analyze their own instructional situations and develop necessary competencies. This supportive approach is one more way the Mentor Teacher Program encourages the new teacher to feel comfortable and ready to invest a second year in the district. It focuses on giving the mentor teacher the chance to apply past practices and experiences to new circumstances and avoids the practice of overloading a new teacher at the beginning of the year with mandated methods, policies, and curriculum.

The mentor teacher follow-up sessions provide ongoing training for the mentor teacher. Opportunities are provided for introspection into one's own learning modalities and a process for reflecting on the preceding school year. There is time afforded for issues of leadership styles and conferencing techniques, as well as a sharing of ideas to improve the program. These sessions allow teachers to discuss newly realized needs and question their needs of the future.

The Mentor Teacher Program has focused on establishing a comfort level for the new teacher. It has provided in a nonthreatening manner the opportunity to introduce and implement programs and priorities prescribed by the school district. It has encouraged ownership by participating teachers, reinforcing their efforts. As the Mentor Teacher Program expands within a school and across the state, it will alleviate some problems inherent in rural schools with high staff turnover.

 Cook Inlet


Ray Barnhardt

Part I * Rural School Ideals

"My Goodness, People Come and Go So Quickly Around Here"
Lance C. Blackwood

Parental Involvement in a Cross-Cultural Environment
Monte Boston

Teachers and Administrators for Rural Alaska
Claudia Caffee

The Mentor Teacher Program
Judy Charles

Building Networks
Helen Eckelman

Ideal Curriculum and Teaching Approaches for a School in Rural Alaska
Teresa McConnell

Some Observations Concerning Excellent Rural Alaskan Schools
Bob Moore

The Ideal Rural Alaska Village School
Samuel Moses

From Then To Now: The Value of Experiential Learning
Clara Carol Potterville

The Ideal School
Jane Seaton

Toward an Integrated, Nonlinear, Community-Oriented Curriculum Unit
Mary Short

A Letter from Idealogak, Alaska
Timothy Stathis

Preparing Rural Students for the Future
Michael Stockburger

The Ideal Rural School
Dawn Weyiouanna

Alternative Approaches to the High School Curriculum
Mark J. Zintek

Part II * Rural Curriculum Ideas

"Masking" the Curriculum
Irene Bowie

On Punks and Culture
Louise J. Britton

Literature to Meet the Needs of Rural Students
Debra Buchanan

Reaching the Gifted Student Via the Regular Classroom
Patricia S. Caldwell

Early Childhood Special Education in Rural Alaska
Colleen Chinn

Technically Speaking
Wayne Day

Process Learning Through the School Newspaper 
Marilyn Harmon

Glacier Bay History: A Unit in Cultural Education
David Jaynes

Principals of Technology
Brian Marsh

Here's Looking at You and Whole Language
Susan Nugent

Inside, Outside and all-Around: Learning to Read and Write
Mary L. Olsen

Science Across the Curriculum
Alice Porter

Here's Looking at You 2000 Workshop
Cheryl Severns

School-Based Enterprises
Gerald Sheehan

King Island Christmas: A Language Arts Unit
Christine Pearsall Villano

Using Student-Produced Dialogues
Michael A. Wilson

We-Search and Curriculum Integration in the Community
Sally Young

Artist's Credits



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Alaska Native Knowledge Network
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Fairbanks  AK 99775-6730
Phone (907) 474.1902
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Last modified August 18, 2006