When Saugerties students return to school on September 6, they’ll encounter teachers who’ve spent much of their summer break preparing for the 2016-17 school year. A handful of these teachers are new to the district, and they’ll be officially greeted during an intensive teacher orientation day next Wednesday, August 31.
According to assistant superintendent Lawrence Mautone, the orientation is crucial both for teachers new to the profession and for those who may have taught elsewhere. School districts in the state are required to similarly throw out the welcome mat, but each district has enough unique qualities that it’s unlikely a new educator could come in and feel instantly acclimated.
“At this new teacher orientation, it’s a way to get everybody together, and they meet the administrators,” said Mautone. “They would talk to their union president and explain how the benefit trust works, how the committees work, things that are relevant to teachers. Our website coordinator will show them how to use their webpage, show them how to use e-mail, the grading system. If it’s a special ed teacher, they’ll show them how to use IEP Direct. They’ll get all their passwords. We go over the district code of conduct and discuss the APPR.”
There elements of the teacher orientation might seem obvious, but they’re all necessary, said Mautone. It can be good to be refreshed on the details when there’s an awful lot happening all at once – which there will be.
“It’s a whirlwind when you start teaching, as it is with any new job,” Mautone said. “Where’s the copy room? How do I get a copy made? What if I need to call a parent back? Where’s the room where I can have privacy for that? It gives them a chance to see the faces of the administration, to get preliminary questions they may have answered.”
The mentoring program
On the first day of school this year, teachers will have conferences scheduled in the morning and faculty meetings in the afternoon. “By that point things [will be] moving so fast,” said Mautone. “The orientation gives them a few extra days to be more comfortable.”
Mentors will assist new teachers during those few extra days. The mentoring program, coordinated by Bernadette Dvorak, a world language teacher at Saugerties High, pairs new teachers and other educators with an experienced teacher for at least half the school year. As with most everything else for teachers new to the district, the mentoring program really begins at the teacher orientation.
“We have everybody come up to the junior-senior high school for the first part of the day, but then the teachers would be allowed to go back to the buildings where they’re going to teach to work with their mentors,” said Mautone.
The number of new teachers — plus teaching assistants and other staff — isn’t always crystal-clear in the summer. Mautone said that some teachers let the district know they’re retiring well in advance, while others make their decisions late in the summer. Sometimes a teacher is hired to fill a space left by another teacher who left for personal reasons.
With about two weeks to go before teacher orientation, Mautone thought there were maybe seven new teaching positions for the beginning of the school year.
Dvorak thought that as many as four more new hires might also benefit from the mentoring program. Each new teacher will be assigned a mentor. “It’s for people new to the district,” Mautone said. “Even veteran teachers who might have been teaching for 15 years, if you come to our district you will probably be assigned a mentor, or at least a half-time mentor. Our district probably works a lot differently than Arlington or Marlboro.”
Some level of flexibility is required within the framework of the mentor-mentee relationship, Dvorak said. “It depends upon the need of the mentee,” age explained. “The program is really mentee-driven, and it’s based on the needs of the new hire. I don’t like to say ‘new teacher’ because in many cases we get experienced teachers who are just new to the district. And there’s a recommended amount of meeting time within a school cycle, but sometimes that means ten minutes of a lunchtime meeting.”
The response has been positive
The program requires not also participation but also structure. Mentees must keep track of how they’re doing. “The mentees are required to document their time, and they’re required to do that through a program called My Learning Plan, so that the district can verify,” Dvorak said.
On the mentor side of the relationship, only experienced teachers need apply. “In order to be a mentor, you have to be tenured within the district,” Dvorak said. “We want people who have been here long enough to have roots in the district. And you must complete a mentor training program.”
The 15 hours of mentor training, considered in-service work, is done within the district. It’s a hybrid of part-on-line, part-in-person study. Boces doesn’t currently have its own training option.
“It would be foolish to have a mentoring-type of situation and have it all online,” Dvorak explained. “That just seems to go against the grain.”
Mentors are paid a stipend negotiated with the district and adjusted depending upon whether the mentor is considered full- or part-time, and beyond that whether they’ll work with their mentee for all or part of the school year. The program has been successful enough, Dvorak said, that the majority of mentors have usually done the job before.
“Several of the mentors who will be used this year have served as mentors in the past, and we have a few that will be mentoring for the first time,” she said. “We have quite a variety.”
The district tries to pair mentees with a mentor familiar not only with general district information, but one who might also be able to answer questions specific to their teaching focus.
“We make every attempt to accommodate a new teacher with a mentor that is in the same certification area, perhaps the same grade level hopefully having a common meeting time built into the schedule,” Dvorak said. “We try to not have somebody at the high school mentoring an elementary school teacher. That just seems like it’s counterproductive.”
Mautone thinks the mentor program benefits not just the teachers but the entire district. “When I first started [teaching] they didn’t have a mentor program,” he said. “I think it’s great they’re assigned somebody to help them through their first year. Sometimes you might have a question you don’t want to ask the principal, and it’s good to have someone you can go to and ask those questions. It’s a great resource, and I think the teachers do a great job.”
Dvorak agreed. “The faculty and staff of this district, they’re just wonderful people,” she said. “And the response from the mentees is positive. They’re very grateful for having the program, and they’re grateful for the amount of time that we allot them.”