Monday, September 18, 2000

Teachers take seat in classroom

Veterans show how it's done

By Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Just as students need mentors, so do their teachers. At least five Greater Cincinnati school districts have hired teachers to guide their peers in the best ways to teach math, read books to kids, understand test results and even grade papers.

        Mentors say the teachers they help are better prepared, giving students better classroom instruction. Teachers say they like having experienced peers — people who understand the job — coaching them.

        There's a variety of reasons districts employmentor teachers:

        • Booming enrollment requires dozens of new teachers.

        • The need for a system of peer evaluation.

        • Teacher accountability, to improve low student test scores.

        In Lebanon City School District, officials decided the instructional leaders would help them meet their goal of passing all 27 standards on the Ohio Proficiency Test.

        Louisa Wright Elementary teacher Mendy DiMatteo, in her third year, received some peer coaching Friday when she turned over her class to Lebanon schools mentor-teacher Kristie Hoverman. Ms. Hoverman, in her 27th year, gave Ms. DiMatteo a lesson in how to help first-graders comprehend what they read.

        “It's always great to see a great teacher teach a lesson,” Ms. DiMatteo said.

        Ms. DiMatteo sat as engaged as her students as Ms. Hoverman read aloud Wemberly Worried, a book about the first day of school for Wemberly the mouse.

        The veteran teacher asked first-graders lots of questions about Wemberly's worries and their own worries, using a new technique called “guided reading.” During the story, Ms. DiMatteo mulled the technique designed to teach students critical thinking.

        Ms. Hoverman said by helping guide other teachers such as Ms. DiMatteo, she's reaching hundreds of students.

        “This is different than pulling individual kids out of a classroom,” Ms. Hoverman said. “We're not trying to pull out kids and put them back. We're trying to give teachers strategies for their classrooms.”

Catching on nationally
               Lebanon joins Mason, Fairfield, Covington, Cincinnati and a growing number of schools that employ full- or part-time teachers to supervise and mentor their peers.

        Teacher mentoring is catching on nationally and has its roots in the professionalization of teaching, said Allan Odden, professor of educational administration at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

        “In a professional organization, people (like doctors and lawyers) both do the work and manage the organization,” Mr. Odden said. “When people are more in charge in the aspects of an organization, that's the strategy that works.”

        Local school districts agree and are trying to give teachers a stake in the educational organization by giving them leadership roles that allow them to help shape education, Mr. Odden said.

        “We're finding the more you train teachers, the better their teaching is,” said Lynda Jackson, Covington schools' federal and state program director in profes sional development.

        “If you take 10 people and write a curriculum for a district, teachers don't use it,” Ms. Jackson said. “But if all teachers take part in curriculum alignment and development, they are much more likely to use (it).”

        Covington offers teachers a stipend to take on roles as facilitators called cluster leaders. The district is responding to a demand for teacher accountability, interim Superintendent Jack Moreland said.

        The Kentucky Department of Education recently said a Covington Independent Schools improvement plan lacked focus. The district was attempting to comply with a state audit last spring that criticized Covington's instruction and management.

        Cincinnati Public Schools has had teachers teaching one other for about a decade under a Career in Teaching program. Trained teacher observers review their fellow teachers.

        As of Friday, the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers voted in a revolutionary pay system based on performance, leaving peer evaluators to have a more important role in teacher accountability.

        Along with giving teachers a stake in education, districts use mentoring as a way to streamline classroom learning.

        Some Ohio districts use mentoring as a way to align every classroom's curriculum with the Ohio proficiency test standards, while Covington is using mentors to help meet Kentucky Education Reform Act standards.

        But all the schools share one goal: improve student learning through teacher development and training.

Bigger benefit
               Having a core group teach good strategies to all the district's teachers spreads good instruction to every classroom, Lebanon Superintendent Bill Sears said.

        This year, Lebanon sacrificed four teaching positions geared toward small student group instruction and shuffled other positions to create 13 instructional leaders, Mr. Sears said.

        Most of those teachers, such as Ms. Hoverman, work full time offering professional development and peer coaching. Others still teach students part of the day.

        “With what we're doing, we believe a large number of kids will benefit,” he said.

        Mr. Sears thinks the benefits outweigh the salaries of the four new positions the district added.

        The Mason school district agrees. The district, growing by about 650 students a year, hired 157 teachers over the past two years to accommodate enrollment gains.

        Mason employs nine full-time and one part-time curriculum leaders at a cost of $331,873 a year. That includes one position added this year.

        But adding teachers does not guarantee good teaching practices, spokeswoman Shelly Be nesh said. The new teachers have to be taught those practices, she said.

        “Since new classroom teachers are committed to meeting individual student needs, they benefit from the leaders who have been successful in the classroom,” she said.

        As in Lebanon, Mason's curriculum leaders perform multiple tasks. Some days they schedule substitutes or train groups of teachers on classroom motivation. Other days they grade the district's writing tests or mentor individual teachers, said language arts curriculum leader Jennifer Fox.

        “I've been known to spend three days in a row with one teacher,” Ms. Fox said. “I don't just see a snapshot. I see how things flow together.”

        And part of her job is making sure the flow continues from classroom to classroom because, in the end, the success of mentoring should be seen in the classroom.

        If Ms. DiMatteo is any example, mentoring does trickle down.

        “The teachers that have chosen to take on this position have a lot of experience,” she said. “On the whole, (the curriculum leader) has been a wonderful asset. I definitely think it's a great idea.”

        And though her students may not know anything about “guided reading,” she said, they'll be answering lots of questions with the next book she reads aloud thanks to the suggestions of her mentor.


               Following is a job description for an instructional leader in Lebanon City School District, which employs 13 instructional leaders.


        • At least three years' teaching experience.

        • Leadership skills.

        • Extensive knowledge or training in literacy and/or Reading Recovery; an understanding of Lebanon schools' student literacy goals.


        • Assist staff in improving instruction.

        • Focus on reading, writing and literacy.

        • Support improved learning in math, science and social studies.

        • Provide and lead staff development at district and building level.

        • Work with other specialists to implement curriculum successfully.

        • Assist in data collection and analysis to improve instruction.

        • Provide intervention to small student groups if needed.

        Contract: Standard teacher contract plus 10 extended duty days

        Compensation: Teacher's salary according to salary schedule


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