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New teachers in Chesapeake schools have two important friends helping them succeed in their new jobs: mentors at their schools and Old Dominion University, which has helped support that relationship over the past two years, thanks to a grant from the Virginia Department of Education worth more than $100,000.

As part of the program, titled "Instructional Coaching Project for Clinical Faculty II," ODU faculty pair new teachers, defined as those with fewer than two years experience, with more experienced faculty in the same building, grade level and discipline. The goal is to keep new teachers in the profession after their first year or two in the classroom.

Fifty new teachers are matched with 50 veterans each year throughout the district's elementary, middle and high schools. The program will soon begin its third year in Chesapeake schools.

"The hope is it's building a cadre of veteran teachers who are identified as skilled folks, but more importantly, have developed a skill set as a nurturers and mentors of new teachers," said ODU faculty member Robert Lucking, the leader of the instructional coaching project. ODU colleagues Steve Tonelson and Leigh Butler are co-investigators for the project.

New teachers are at risk for dropping out if they become disillusioned or unhappy with their jobs, Lucking said. Some may be unable to handle the pressures of their new responsibilities and scrutiny of their performance by their supervisors.

"It's doubly threatening when you're being evaluated for your work and having someone come in to offer suggestions," Lucking said. "It can be terribly demeaning if not done properly."

Primary emphasis is placed on classroom management and adapting instruction based on results from Virginia's Standards of Learning tests, Lucking said. Mentors offer help and advice in a non-threatening way that builds camaraderie in the teaching ranks.

The program has proven successful. Surveys of teachers completing the program the last two years indicated a greater feeling of belonging to a team. "They feel connected and that they have a place where they belong," Lucking said. "They feel they have joined the community of teachers."

This article was posted on: August 1, 2005

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