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TFA Idaho launches new school mentoring program

Mentor and mentee teachers discuss why they're excited to learn and lead together this year.

September 19, 2022

Michelle and Cassedy

Veteran kindergarten teacher Michelle Salas and second-year Teach For America Idaho corps member Cassedy Spencer both knew from early childhood that they wanted to be teachers when they grew up.

So it almost seemed fated that they would end up working in adjacent kindergarten classrooms at MOSAICS Charter School in Caldwell, with Michelle mentoring as Cassedy began her teaching career.

As this school year begins, Michelle is one of eight teachers across the state participating in TFA Idaho's new School Mentor Leadership Program. Under Idaho law, all new teachers must have a mentor teacher. But there are few parameters specified. Most mentor teachers have to figure out how to squeeze in the extra duty and are not compensated for it.

TFA's program provides a more structured mentor-mentee relationship, with oversight from TFA staff and modest compensation for the mentor teacher. It also carves out time for the mentor teacher to observe her mentee in action.

Daly Hull, TFA Idaho's manager of teacher leadership and development, said the new mentoring program has multiple complementary goals. One, obviously, is to provide novice corps members with seasoned teachers who can support them.

"They'll spend a lot of time in conversations, setting goals, and really thinking through things like, what's working in my classroom, what's not working, and how do I increase my impact for students? Additionally, we hope our corps members feel more supported in their school buildings." She said this could lead to more corps members staying in their schools after their two-year TFA commitment expires.

Daly said there's a parallel benefit for the mentor teachers as well.

"They have all this background knowledge and experience that should be leveraged in their schools," she said." Mentoring gives them more opportunities to be a part of leadership without having to become an administrator if teaching is their passion."

Michelle and Cassedy already had a close, collegial relationship, and Michelle mentored Cassedy last year, so formalizing the arrangement as part of the TFA program made sense to both of them.

"We work well together, and I really enjoyed the mentoring part of teaching," Michelle said. She has acted as a mentor for other teachers at MOSAICS and her previous school, Idaho Arts Charter School in Nampa.

Cassedy said she is grateful to have Michelle mentor her. "Michelle has so much insight, and her experience is so deep, especially when it comes to kindergarten," she said. "I just love being right next door and being able to knock and ask questions when I'm struggling with something."

From Michelle's perspective, mentoring an enthusiastic young teacher like Cassedy is rejuvenating. "With Cassedy being so new, she's so excited about teaching," she said. "After teaching for a while, you lose a little bit of that excitement; you're a little bit more jaded.

Being partners with her has been exciting because it helps me remember to stop and smell the roses. It makes me step back a little bit and see things through her eyes and how exciting teaching can be."