DECATUR – New teachers in Decatur School District meet regularly for mentoring and workshops, to help them feel at home and answer their questions.
Their most recent meeting included a Q&A with school board members. One question was, “What advice do you have for teachers?”
Board member Sherri Perkins said she hopes they'll learn to balance work and personal life.
“You have all this energy,” she said. “Don't get burned out.”
Beth Creighton said she knew their jobs are challenging, and it's easy to get discouraged. “Celebrate small victories,” she said. “Don't wait until the end of the year. If there are things you need, if you're frustrated, tell your mentor.”
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The lack of a mentor, feeling adrift, difficulty with day-to-day management of time and the classroom, are all reasons new teachers cite for job dissatisfaction, according to the United States Department of Education. Teacher job satisfaction has dropped 15 points since 2009, from 59 percent who were very satisfied, to 44 percent who are very satisfied.
One of the ways that the Decatur district combats those odds is the teacher mentoring program, which provides those new teachers – both recent graduates and teachers new to the district – with the help they need to settle in and, it is hoped, stay.
“We have seven of these sessions in their first year as part of their mentoring program,” said Jey Owens, recruitment and retention specialist for Decatur schools. “It started with a week-long teacher orientation. Today is meet your board members. We try to stay abreast on what's coming up, so last month it was how to conduct a parent-teacher conference.”
In December, the teachers will learn more about Decatur, ways to get involved and ways in which the community wants to help them, Owens said.
Board member Kendall Briscoe offered the board's assistance in that regard, too. Most of the board members are Decatur natives, involved in numerous organizations, and ready to help make connections.
“If we can help you get a life in Decatur, we'll be glad to help you do that,” Briscoe said, causing a few chuckles in her listeners, which she joined.
Sessions are planned by Charlotte Thompson, director of curriculum-elementary. The majority of teachers who attend the sessions are brand-new teachers, but not all.
Teresa Cobb is an experienced teacher, but this is her first year in Decatur schools. She teaches social studies enrichment at Hope Academy. That's a class that focuses on culture, people and family in other places in the world.
“I've been teaching for six years,” Cobb said. “I needed a fresh start. I was getting burned out and I needed a new challenge. I applied in different districts and this was the most attractive to me. I feel like every teacher here has something to offer me, as well. Spending time with the ladies and gentlemen I'm with tonight, I learn a lot from them. You do a lot of team-building activities and you get to know each other and you know what they're going through at their school, and it makes you feel like you're not in this alone. We're all working together as a family.”