August 25, 2006 | 4:40  p.m. ET

From the principal’s point of view (Thomas E. Kenner, principal, Jean Childs Young Middle School)

The Beginning
A collaborative effort between Universities and the Public School System afforded college students and persons not in the field of education an opportunity to teach in a school setting while working on their teacher certification.  Thereby, “Teach For America” evolved.  This program was implemented nationally to attract bright and interested persons into the field of education.  Participants are enrolled in an intense instructional program and a summer practicum.  During the summer practicum, participants are exposed to a variety of urban school settings by day and accelerated instructional classroom training by evening.

Jean Childs Young Middle School became involved with this program for the first time, during the 2004-2005 school year.  Monica Groves and Kimberlin Butler were selected through a paper screening process.  During the review of Ms. Groves’ file, it was determined that she had a solid academic record, leadership experience, and an overall impressive transcript.  Her skills in Language Arts would be an asset for us because we needed a Language Arts Teacher.

The Anticipated Union
In late July, after the summer practicum, Ms. Groves arrived in Atlanta for the Atlanta Public Schools’ “New Teacher Orientation.”  One of the events held for the week is a luncheon where principals meet their new teachers.  When I began to talk with Ms. Groves, she asked a question, “What advice can you give new teachers?”  My answer was, “Don’t be afraid to make a mistake.”  I could literally see her exhale and with body language say, “Am I glad you said that!” At that moment, I had a great feeling about the spirit and energy displayed by Ms. Groves.

Getting Started
Ms. Groves made a positive impression on me from the beginning.  It was just something about the questions she asked, her care and attention to details while putting her classroom together for the students, her work ethic each day, and her sense of commitment to complete assigned tasks effectively. The only reservation I had was the lack of experience, outside of the TFA Training in Houston to Urban Middle School children.  I also considered her upper middle class background and did not know how she would relate to our children. It did not take long for me to see evidence that Ms. Groves was going to work out. She worked so hard that I literally had to go to her room as I left the building to get her to go home before the next day.  I heard and saw the level of high expectations she had for her children. I saw in Ms. Groves the most important thing you cannot give to a new teacher, a love for children and a desire to perform at a maximum level.  After meeting Ms. Groves’ parents and her grandmother, I understood how committed she was to educating children, and I felt she would be a great role model for our children.

Some Challenges to Start the Year
We needed a Cheerleader Coach for the upcoming school year. I asked Ms. Groves to be the coach and she willingly accepted.  I was aware that involving a new teacher in this position would be somewhat risky due to the time requirements associated with the activity. However, I felt Ms.Groves could handle the task.  Additionally, I felt somewhat more at ease as Mrs. Rouse (Assistant Principal) and a parent Mrs. Gonsalves (their children were cheerleaders) were in place to support Ms. Groves.

The second challenge was Ms. Groves’ indecisions with her third period class due to high-energy and off task students.

Midyear Progress 
Ms. Groves’ commitment and work ethic never wavered.  Mrs. Rouse and Mrs. Robinson (Assistant Principals), Mrs. Harris (Instructional Specialist), and I tried to explain to Ms. Groves that she was doing a great job, yet she needed to pace herself and become less self-critical.  The third period remained a source of stress for Ms. Groves as she felt she was failing them.  At mid-year, my assessment of Ms. Groves showed improvement in her instructional strategies, techniques, and delivery.  Her classroom management techniques were much better.  I again reminded Ms. Groves not to expect complete success in such a short period of time.

The cheerleader sponsorship, when I was honest with myself, was more taxing than I first envisioned.  After basketball season, it was time for intense cheerleading practices to prepare for the local cheerleading competition.

First Year Under Her Belt 
Ms. Groves had wanted 80% of her students to earn a grade of “B” in her class by the end of the year.  She was able to achieve this goal and her state test scores for a first year teacher were acceptable.  We developed a plan to make improvements the next school year.

The cheerleader experience turned out well. Ms. Groves was able to manage the unpredictable personalities and attitudes of the middle school child as well as demanding parents. The squad competed in the local Cheerleading Competition and won fourth place.  This was a big accomplishment for a first year coach who never coached cheerleading before in her life.  I believe the cheerleading activities brought Ms. Groves closer to her students and parents and gave her a family away from home.  A sense of accomplishment was achieved with the fourth place win as students gave her honor status as their “Cheerleading Coach.”

The Second Year 
As a second year teacher, Ms. Groves was assigned to teach gifted and high potential sixth grade students.  Ms. Groves was an excellent fit for this position because she was a hard worker, very organized, held high expectations for all children, and communicated well with all parents. In addition, I like to provide new staff with some variety of positions to see them in multiple teaching roles.  On our Gifted Team, not all students are classified as gifted. Teaching on the gifted team is not a plum position. Gifted teachers are faced with challenges just as teachers that do not teach gifted students.

Ms. Groves also wanted to continue with her coaching position as she had established a great relationship with so many of the girls.

The entire administrative staff commented on the overall progress and growth Ms. Groves made from year one to year two.  We saw more confidence, better pacing in instructional delivery, greater assurance in her behavior management, and the same energy and high expectations for her children and herself.  Ms. Groves has been a tremendous asset to the Jean Childs Young Middle School Family.

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