Monthly mentoring is a key component of the Jaffe Fellows’ success in their classrooms. Strong and supportive mentoring has a direct correlation with the retention rate of new teachers.
Jaffe Fellows, both in their first and second year, are mentored by experienced practitioners. The PCFP mentors have demonstrated a commitment to education, the ability to communicate effectively, and knowledge of the specific content area.
The mentors are passionate about the professional development and growth of the Jaffe Fellows. Through the two year mentoring relationship, Fellows are offered individualized support and provided assistance with establishing instructional priorities, implementing curriculum mandates, and setting clear and realistic expectations for themselves as well as the students they serve. Mentors provide invaluable feedback that serves as an inspiration for the Jaffe Fellows to progress and excel.
Bruce has been a mentor for the Peace Corps Fellows Program since 2005.
Those involved in education will recall their first turbulent year of teaching with a mixture of fondness and dread. Thirty-three years have passed, and I still vividly remember the thrill and terror of teaching classes decked out in my suit and tie to disguise the fact that I was twenty-two, just a few years older than my eleventh-grade students! My outfit also helped me to gain entrance on the teachers’ elevator where earlier the aide had questioned whether I was a student or a faculty member.
My first year of work at Teachers College was no different. A mentor had left New York abruptly, and there was a need for a quick replacement for the spring term. Mr. Browne called me and asked if I would like to apply for the position. At first I declined, but then I thought, I am fifty-five, newly retired from teaching and feeling the loss of a dynamic career. My pension advisor had told me, “You have the best pension in North America. Now all you have to do is breathe.” There had to be something more, something to fill the gaping void. I reconsidered and decided to become a mentor.
My first Fellow was a young woman who had spent two years in Senegal and now wished to become a full-time teacher. In the Peace Corps, she was responsible for organizing a bike-athon across the entire country to publicize the need for mandatory education for girls. The demonstration received television coverage including appearances by prominent political figures. Now this young woman was sitting across from me in a coffee shop telling me details about her first half-year of teaching. All of a sudden as she spoke, tears began to stream down her face. The fall term had been a nightmare; she had been assigned five classes without a co-teacher, a para or any assistance from administration. Her students quickly discerned that she was new to the job, and noise level and misbehavior were out of control.
I thought to myself, in a way you and I are in the same situation. You are staring into an educational void, and I a personal one. In effect, she was left on her own to sink or swim without support of any kind. With my years of teaching experience, I could provide that support. I said to her, I believe I can be of help to you. In fact, I am willing to come once a week to visit your classes until you are on your feet as an educator.
Thus I began the long, tedious trek from Queens to Brooklyn to one of the oldest schools in the city, Erasmus High. No matter what route I took, the commute always took 45 minutes on some of the most congested highways in New York. Once I arrived, we began work immediately on lesson planning and an overhaul of classroom management. There were no pedagogical miracles taking place, but midway through the spring term I could see that she was running more orderly classes, and there were major gains in her rapport with students and in her own self-confidence. By mid-term, it was clear that she was able to stand on her own as a beginning teacher with a strong sense of commitment to her field. When she started an after-school club for girls, I could see that she was deeply into her role as an educator, and it was time to suspend the weekly visits.
Twelve years have passed, and I have worked with a wide array of Fellows, some of whom were “naturals” and others who needed intensive support. I have experienced the horror of working in a phase-out school, one which was slated to be closed at the end of the school year, one in which my Fellow watched his AP and even his principal desert the sinking ship for a new position. The students, of course, picked up on the imminent sense of chaos, but they grew to like my teacher if only because he had told them that he would not leave them under any circumstances. I have also walked into schools that were beautifully run where my Fellow was receiving so much support from his
in-house mentor and his colleagues that I started to feel that my words of advice were bordering on the redundant.
Not a single teacher from my PCF roster has quit in midstream. This strong sense of commitment to education is what I admire about them most. Having spent several years working in trying conditions, facing the aftermath of revolutions and the outbreak of the Ebola plague, Fellows have come to the teaching profession with an earnestness not shared by many beginning teachers. Also, every PC mentor I know has agreed that there is no sense of entitlement in the Fellows we are assigned. They are true idealists who have shifted their focus from improving a small part of the world to improving the education of students in their classrooms.
I really consider it a privilege to be working with high-minded teachers like these, and again, like my mentoring colleagues, I have marveled at their rapid growth from struggling beginners to capable instructors in a single year. To all newcomers, I would say that with idealism and a sense of grit and determination born overseas, you too will look back with pride on your accomplishments as a beginning teacher.
Bruce Jacobs studied at CCNY where he met his wife in a Latin class 45 years ago. Bruce earned a master’s from Boston University and a Ph.D in English from Fordham University.