One of the ways Community Charter School of Cambridge helps students achieve success in high school and gain admission to some of the area’s top colleges and universities can be traced to the investment CCSC makes in its new teachers.
Each fall, every new classroom teacher is matched with mentor teachers, experienced educators who coach, guide, and support first and second-year teachers. The Teacher Mentor Program is a very important part of the school’s commitment to student and staff success, says Becky Wilusz, dean of curriculum and program at CCSC.
“Teaching is such a complex job - and the support and guidance from experienced educators enables teachers who are new to the profession, or to a specific school community, to learn more quickly and thus be as effective as possible at their very important job,” she says.
The mission of the Teacher Mentor Program is to support teachers, both professionally and personally, who are new to the school. Mentors collaborate with mentees to help them in a variety of areas, which include, but are not limited to, improving pedagogical practice, negotiating challenges, navigating the culture of the school, and managing their time.
Henry Seton, who chairs CCSC’s Humanities department, has been both a mentee and mentor in his seven years at the school.
“Teaching, particularly during one's first year in a new school, is an inevitably demanding task. Our experienced mentors serve as coach, confidante, and cheerleader for our new teachers so that our newest colleagues feel supported and are able to thrive amidst the challenging work we do every day,” Mr. Seton says.
Perhaps the true value of the program, Mr. Seton and other teachers say, is the support provided to mentees in terms of classroom management, curriculum, and organizational efficiency.
Ms. Wilusz agrees. “The benefit of having a colleague with whom you can share your questions and engage in active reflection about your practice is an invaluable tool in being the best teacher possible—which inevitably benefits our students as much as it benefits these teachers,” she says.
What it looks like:
- Mentors visit mentees’ classrooms for approximately 45 minutes every two weeks. A single visit can range from 15 minutes to 45 minutes in length, depending on the focus of the visit and the protocol being employed.
- After mentors observe the class, the pair debriefs within a few days. As the year continues, the pair usually chooses to focus observations on one specific area for a few weeks. Topics in the past have included classroom management, student engagement, teacher questioning, student questioning, wait time, and checking for understanding. As growth is observed and recorded in a specific area, the team collaboratively chooses to move on to a new topic.
- Mentor / mentee pairs have also collaborated on a variety of activities which benefit both teachers: observing other teachers’ classes together, working with video, meeting to debrief evaluation notes, working together to strategize around career questions or time management, etc. The key to a successful mentor / mentee relationship is for the mentee to communicate clearly and often about his or her needs.
Feedback from past mentees at CCSC:
“I think that the thing that was most helpful was the ability to set really specific goals with my mentor, and know that I was going to receive specific feedback about those goals. There were also things that
my mentor could see and witness in the classroom that I would not have been able to see myself, and this was really helpful to me.”
“My mentor experience was validating and encouraging and allowed me time to be reflective as a teacher.”
“Oh my gosh. My experience with [my mentor] was absolutely year-saving. I felt that I could go to
[her] with anything from personal issues in the classroom to professional growth areas. She always
knew how to give me a healthy dose of both positive and constructive feedback, which was uber- important.”
For more information about the CCSC Teacher Mentor Program, email Becky Wilusz at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 617 354 0047.