Retirement did not last long for Marc Heuer, the McFarland School District (MSD) release and lead mentor.
After retiring in the spring, Heuer was hired back at 60 percent time to provide guidance and advice to new teachers. He has been a facilitator and trainer for the Dane County New Teacher Project since 2003, serving on councils and leadership groups and working with mentors from districts around Dane County.
The state requires mentoring during the first three years of a teacher’s career but leaves it up to the individual school district as to how it is approached. Some districts have one-on-one mentorships, while others opt for release mentors. McFarland will follow a hybrid model this year.
“The research says that if we offer 180 minutes of support a month, that’s about 45 minutes of support a week, we’re going to get the best outcomes for our work with our newest colleagues,” Heuer said.
However, mentors may sometimes find it challenging to find the time to carry out the structured modeled as intended due to their own classroom responsibilities.
About 80 teachers in the district are trained to be mentors by completing a two-day training Professional Learning Series by the Dane County New Teacher Project based in Waunakee.
Heuer began teaching in McFarland in 1982 with multiage third and fourth grades, first and second graders and sixth grade language arts and social studies. At the time, the district did not have a former mentor program then, but another teacher took him under his wing.
“I always thought it I got a chance to give that back, I wanted to do that,” he said.
He formerly served as a one-on-one mentor and now works with five new teachers and one second-year teacher who he mentored last year.
Teachers who leave the profession are most likely to do so within the first five years of teaching due to lack of support.
“I think a lot of people leave the teaching profession because they don’t feel effective or they feel overwhelmed with the responsibilities,” Indian Mound Middle School principal Aaron Tarnutzer said.
He added that in nearly all interviews for new staff, candidates ask about the district’s mentoring program and what support they will be offered.
New Teacher Center began in the 1980s at the University of California-Santa Cruz as special project of School of Education before becoming its own entity. Some states use the center statewide, but other states, including Wisconsin, leaves mentoring up to the individual school district.
“On the first day of school, you as a new career teacher fresh out of school are expected to do the same job to the same level of performance as someone who may have been teaching five, 10, 20, 35 years,” MSD Superintendent Andrew Briddell said.
He added that does not happen without a lot of support.
“A trained veteran teacher and mentor can offer guidance, supports, ask the right questions at the right time, offer that just-in-time support that people need to be effective in their jobs,” Heuer said.
Department of Public Instruction put together a mentor guidebook with examples of mentoring across the state. MSD is showcased as a strong mentor program.
MSD offers mentoring to any new teacher in the district – not just teachers new to the profession.
Katelynn Bell is a new teacher at McFarland High School this fall. She was a mentor with the Middleton High School for several years and now has her own mentor at MSD.
“In its truest form, mentoring is a chance to step back from the chaos and take time to reflect on just one lesson or assessment or group of students,” she said.
She and her mentor, Katie Schicker collaborate by looking at data between algebra classes to plan interventions and extensions for students. Schicker also helps answer questions about where to find supplies and rooms in the building.
“At McFarland, it’s been professionally rewarding to be put back into the category of a new staff member and new learner,” she said.
“While participating in this rewarding work, I am also growing and learning as an educator about new research-based practices to be used in the classroom,” Schicker said. “I am able to learn new approaches from my new teacher and incorporate them into my own classroom to address my students’ needs as well.”