Mentor plan is considered for teachers Proposal aims to help less-experienced staff in Baltimore County

'So much to learn'

Goals would attack racial inequities, discipline problems

November 15, 1995|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,SUN STAFF

Faced with a growing disparity in the experience of teaching staffs -- and in how well students learn -- Baltimore County school officials are considering an ambitious mentor program for inexperienced teachers. Many sch can lead to stress and discipline problems, officials say.

The disparity in experience is particularly glaring in schools with large black enrollments.

"It's possible to go through Johnnycake Elementary, Johnnycake Middle and Woodlawn High and never have a teacher with more than five years' experience," said Michael N. Riley, associate superintendent for administration and instruction. He told a curriculum committee recently that the inequity is one of the school systems' most pressing problems.

He wants to bring accomplished teachers into targeted schools -- not to teach students, but to shepherd inexperienced teachers through their first years and, eventually, stabilize staffs with high turnover.

The proposal, still under discussion, calls for putting 62 full-time master teachers into the 24 county schools where black enrollment is 50 percent or more, he said. It would cost about $3 million a year, and would begin next September.

Other area localities, including Howard County and Baltimore have similar mentor programs for young teachers, but using such programs to address inequities is unusual.

Dr. Riley stressed that he is not pointing fingers either at students in these schools or at the inexperienced teachers' abilities.

"These [new teachers] could be Rhodes scholars who have perfect 4.0s [grade point averages] and could write curriculum for us someday. But when you start out you just have so much to learn," he said.

Usually, he said, such teachers look to veteran colleagues for help, but "if you have so many inexperienced teachers that you don't have anybody to turn to, that's when you are in trouble."

Because of increased retirements and an enrollment boom, the county has been hiring lots of new teachers -- 700 this year and nearly as many in the two previous school years -- and many are inexperienced. These teachers are frequently assigned to schools in the western and southeastern parts of the county.

At Johnnycake Elementary School, for instance, 19 of 34 teachers have less than five years' experience; at Johnnycake Middle, 55 of 71 teachers are inexperienced, as are 62 of 105 teachers at Woodlawn High.

By comparison, Timonium Elementary has 31 teachers, but only seven have less than five years' experience and only two are not tenured, meaning they are in either their first or second year of teaching in the county.

In schools with a majority of inexperienced teachers, Dr. Riley said levels of stress, anxiety and confusion are much higher. Discipline is often more of a problem, too.

He said, "What are we doing in the schools where we can see on a piece of paper that the quality is not as good?"

Dr. Riley's proposed remedy is being tried this year at Scotts Branch Elementary and Old Court Middle schools.

There, inexperienced teachers have mentors to observe them, to counsel them, to team-teach with them and to model lessons for them.

"The mentors have no class teaching responsibilities on their own, and their evaluation is based on improvements in their teachers," said Scotts Branch Principal R. Wayne Law. Each mentor oversees six to eight teachers.

Even in the first few months, "I see more powerful teaching and even better discipline," Mr. Law said.

At Scotts Branch, 27 percent of the teaching staff is nontenured and 65 percent has less than five years' experience "and almost no one is long-term."

"We're doing a lot of things at this school," said Mr. Law, who has been at Scotts Branch less than three years. "But I think this has the potential to be the most powerful improvement."

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