New Teachers Need To Be Mentored And Nurtured

A college senior recently expressed tremendous frustration. He is a secondary education major. Next fall he hopes to begin student teaching. This young man's story is somewhat fascinating. He grew up and was educated in ...

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A college senior recently expressed tremendous frustration. He is a secondary education major. Next fall he hopes to begin student teaching. This young man's story is somewhat fascinating. He grew up and was educated in a community of privilege, although he was not born into privilege. While many of his friends were given much, he worked two jobs and played sports in order to have what they had. At that time, it did not mean much. It was what it was. AJ was very independent and self-reliant.

Although born into dysfunction, he was deeply grateful to attend a high school that offered him opportunities that he never dreamed possible. It was in that small, upper middle class community that AJ discovered his desire to become a teacher. He says that desire was born in the classroom of his beloved high school. That experience helped him to define his life and realize that he could become a somebody.

Throughout college AJ spoke of his high school teachers who instilled within him his hunger for learning. He often spoke of the exceptional teachers he had as a high school student. He was impressed with their competence and exceptional commitment to their students.

In large measure, his high school experience was the reason he applied to a South Shore liberal arts college with an exceptional child study and secondary education program.

These past four years, he has worked very hard. He continues to work multiple jobs to take care of his personal expenses, and is grateful that his education was not handed to him.

Over the last few weeks, AJ had to confirm his student teaching placement for the fall. Someone from his home district recommended that he apply for placement at his home high school. He made that application with tremendous encouragement but was sorely disappointed. His application for placement was rejected. The alleged reasons were, at best, shaky. He was told that no tenured teachers in his discipline were open to a student teacher with the exception of one. The teacher who was open to AJ's placement was told that he could not have a student teacher because he taught all honors and advance placement classes. When AJ inquired, he was told the Board voted against the placement because parents did not want a student teacher "weakening the strength of these honors and advance placement classes."

If this is truly the rationale and not something more political, that kind of thinking is scandalous. This master teacher, who is known for inspiring his students and mentoring many novice teachers in his field, would no more jeopardize his present students' class work than the man in the moon.

How unfortunate that a young future teacher hoping to learn and fine tune the skills of becoming a master teacher from his high school mentor is being denied that opportunity.

Hopefully, that is genuinely a district policy and not one invoked for the moment. How unfortunate that other tenured teachers were not up to shepherding a future teacher from their high school, as they were shepherded when they walked the road AJ is walking.

How sad it is, if all the facts of AJ's case are correct. We want young people to enter teaching and other helping professions, but we are not willing to lead by example.

Unfortunately, I feel that there might be more to AJ's story. Too often, we operate with double standards. We profess one thing and do another. The church, government and our schools are notorious for operating with double standards.

We want our children to become critical thinkers until they raise difficult questions. Then depending on the venue, their questions are dismissed and/or they are ridiculed and made fun of because of the questions raised and/or the positions taken.

Schools are supposed to be safe places where all our children are to be protected, where they are supposed to see respect for diversity and difference in full operation.

During these tumultuous days, it is imperative that every teacher be sensitive to the complicated political and ideological issues before our students. As a teacher, it is not our job to brainwash, but rather to empower students to think critically and teach them the continuum of skills necessary to do this effectively and competently. Unfortunately, in some communities we are failing our students who will become our future teachers, lawyers, county executives and even presidents.

It is amazing and refreshing to talk to college students like AJ who despite the turmoil on high school campuses, are excited about becoming the next generation of teachers. This young man does not want to become a public school teacher and high school football coach for the material perks our profession offers. This young man wants to teach so that he can give back a little of what was given to him. He attributes his hunger for knowledge and his positive values to the reinforcement he received in high school.

AJ's profile, his passion for education and academic competence is exactly what we need in our next generation of teachers. Our schools are in terrible trouble. We need a new breed of committed, competent men and woman to carry the torch and chart a new course into the future.

Too many of our schools have become wastelands of human potential. We need to give the next generation the opportunity to be mentored and nurtured as they prepare to take on the awesome responsibility of shaping and empowering the next generation of students.

We need to encourage dynamic, new teachers and not discourage them!