by Annameekee Hesik
Mentor, Santa Cruz/Silicon Valley New Teacher Project
As a writer and English teacher, I’ve always preferred words over digits and metaphors over data, but now that my third year of being a new teacher mentor with the Santa Cruz/Silicon Valley New Teacher Project is coming to an end, I’ve begun to reflect on the numbers of my experience and I’m surprised at how much fun and awe-inspiring numbers can be.
The first set of numbers is 3, 14, 30, 5, and 6,300. Three is the number of years I’ve mentored teachers in Santa Cruz, Watsonville, Aromas, and Castroville. Fourteen is the number of teachers I mentored each year. Each of these fourteen teachers has, on average, thirty students in each class and each teacher teaches five classes. That means, in my tenure with the SC/SVNTP, I have positively impacted the learning and success of approximately 6,300 students. I had to check my math on this last number. Is that right? 6,300 students? Then I thought beyond my own caseload. I am joined by three other fulltime Humanities secondary mentors, some with caseloads as big as sixteen. So that means… oh boy, calculator time, between the four of us, we are helping to improve the learning experiences of over 23,000 students in Santa Cruz County and beyond. I have been told over the years, especially when I am feeling nostalgic for the classroom and missing the positive impact I have had on my students, that our work as mentors is widespread, but I never stopped to look at the data, which is currently knocking my socks off. And that’s just between the four Humanities mentors! At nearly every high school, middle school, and elementary school in Santa Cruz and North Monterey counties, there is a SC/SVNTP mentor supporting at least one new teacher. If four of us are positively impacting the lives of 23,000 students, imagine what twenty of us can and are doing.
So, what makes me so sure that we are indeed making a long-lasting positive impact? For the answer to that question, I’ll turn to the numbers again: 6, 10, 60, 15, and 12. On average, I meet one on one with each new teacher for six hours a month (some much more than this). There are ten months in a school year, so that means we spend over sixty hours a year together analyzing student work, celebrating successes, problem solving challenges, meeting with principals, collaborating on lessons and units, planning parent communication, studying the needs of students, and more. In addition to our weekly meetings, our new teachers meet with subject and grade-alike colleagues from across district lines in our six Collaborative Learning Community (CLC) professional developments. For a total of fifteen hours a year, they receive expertly-developed PD on topics that matter most, when they need it most: classroom management, differentiation, lesson planning and the Common Core, social and emotional learning, and how to address equity in the classroom. Also in these CLCs, teachers are given time to further discuss challenges and reflect on solutions, take on leadership roles, collaborate with colleagues, and hear best practices from others who share the same grade and subject. I’ve seen teachers use strategies that were shared in CLCs the very next day in their own classes, making impressive shifts in student behavior, engagement, and teacher confidence. When I think back to my years as a veteran teacher, the only chance I was able to really spend time with colleagues on topics like these, topics that were most urgent and relevant to me, was in my carpool. Other than that, I was on my own. Lastly, there’s the number twelve. On average, I observe my teachers in action about twelve times a year (and some more than that). Much different than a principal’s two-time evaluative observations, our observations allow us to pinpoint future areas of inquiry and discussion, celebrate growth, and help the teacher recognize small adjustments that can increase engagement and student and teacher success. In most cases, my new teachers request MORE mentor observations. Because, again, no one wants to travel this bumpy road to teacher success on his/her own.
In my weekly meetings with new teachers, epiphanies are frequent (I should have kept track!), but more importantly, self-attained. Just like when I’m working with my students, I want to build their capacity so that when I’m no longer there, these new teachers know how to find the answers and seek the support they need. We are non-evaluative, but we are skilled in guiding conversations and using formative assessment tools to help new teachers be reflective and see, for themselves, what is working and what could be adjusted. We help build resiliency, creativity, confidence, and we help our new teachers find the light of joy in their days even at dark and challenging times. That’s the impact I know each of the SC/SVNTP mentors has on new teachers.
As I make my exit from SC/SVNTP (all mentors return to the classroom after three years), these numbers help me remember that I made a difference in the lives of my new teachers and in the lives of the thousands of students they taught. What a gift to have the opportunity to not just mentor, but learn from some of the most dedicated, hard-working professionals I have ever met: our new teachers. I have learned as much, if not more, from them as they have from me. I return to the classroom with new strategies, improved communication and collaboration skills, and a support system of teachers so large that I know I’ll never be on my own again.
Now, to leave you with one final set of numbers: 4, 23, 14, and 9,345,643. If my numbers have inspired you and you would like to hear more about becoming a new teacher mentor with the Santa Cruz/Silicon Valley New Teacher Project, please join us on April 23, 2014 at 4pm in the SCCOE Annex for an informational meeting. That’s 4/23/14 at 4! See our website for more details.
Finally, there is the number 9,345,643. This is the approximate number of “thank yous” I’d like to give out to all my new teachers, my fellow mentors, and the incredible SC/SVNTP leadership team. These have been some of the most enlightening and positive three years in my career. May your numbers stay strong and your amazing impact continue to be life-long. Thank you, thank you, thank you. (Only 9,345,640 thank yous to go.)
Annameekee Hesik currently serves a Humanities Mentor and is a member of the SC/SVNTP Leadership Team. She teaches English at North Monterey County High School and is the author of The You Know Who Girls Series (Young Adult Fiction). Visit her website for more information about her books, upcoming events, and future projects.