It's not a secret that we need to maintain outstanding agriculture programs and FFA chapters around our state and nation so that students can continue to be afforded excellent opportunities that will help them be productive citizens in our country. Seeing a need for getting new teachers off the ground running, the Wisconsin Association of Agricultural Educators developed a teacher-mentoring program back in 2003. As one of the founding members of that program, I viewed it as an opportunity to give new colleagues what I viewed was missing when I entered the profession more than a decade ago.
It started out as most mentoring programs do - a neighboring teacher who was formally trained (by a professional trainer or the WAAE committee) helping the new professional. The mentor served as the sounding board for problems and issues that arose and helped the new teacher stay on track with deadlines and curriculum essentials. The new teachers would attend our professional development conference and sit in one room, while seasoned veterans came through one after another to offer them assistance and resources for whatever topic they were "experts" in for our state while other fabulous workshops would be going on around them that could give them curriculum ideas.
What we have today is a different version of that program, which we know is helping our new colleagues even more! Three years ago our committee realized that some major changes needed to be made to enhance the help we delivered to our newest teachers. Members from our statewide committee, along with our new teachers, committed to coming to the Professional Development Conference a day early to learn from each other. Our program starts at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, with our regular conference taking place Monday through Thursday. We know it's a long time to be away from home and local programs, but the learning and growing that we do as professionals during that time is top notch and like no other we receive!
The Teacher Mentoring Committee members represent variety in our profession. From years of service to specialties to gender to geographical location, we gather a core group of agricultural educators who are passionate about helping others, especially those folks who are just joining the world of agricultural education! The committee has worked hard to develop an agenda that is helpful, but not too overwhelming.
Over the last few years, we have used our state's agricultural education listserv to pose questions and gather information from more than 300 people in all facets of education. We have asked for helpful labs and lessons, advice, ice breakers, scenarios that they have found themselves in as a professional, easy substitute teacher lesson plans, movie worksheets and more. Our colleagues are the best around and have willingly shared a plethora of materials that our Teacher Mentoring Committee has turned into valuable tools to teach our new folks. We have also asked each of our veteran teachers to identify themselves as an "expert" in an area of agricultural education. We update and publish this list yearly so that all who have access to it can pose questions to those folks for helpful feedback. Even veteran teachers take advantage of this list to learn new things from time to time!
During our Sunday program, each new teacher gets a binder filled with the items we collect so that they have a hard copy. We compile a CD of goodies and the Ag in the Classroom material is free for the taking. Each year our committee selects a book that we also pass along to our new instructors. In past years we've used colleagues' recommendations or have found useful resources in the ACTE bookstore while attending the national conference.
Throughout the conference, we discuss the "stuff described above, but it's really more about establishing relationships. We want these new professionals to realize that we have ALL been in their shoes. We understand the insecurities they are bringing into the profession. …