Renton RWT program coordinator, Carla Smith, described the mentor teacher placement process and key ideas to remember in several interviews over the fall of 2013. Carla described the student placement process that culminates in a weekly 1-2 hour practicum experience (internship), starting in the second term. A summary of the program coordinator’s suggestions for effective student placements is as follows:
- Limit placements to decrease organizational tasks: Renton RWT uses a maximum of 4 elementary schools and 2 middle schools for placements in classrooms with mentor teachers. These are the sites that are most geographically possible for transportation. They are also demographically very diverse. The fewer the sites, the easier it is to manage and communicate with mentor teachers who have questions or challenges.
- Invest time in overall and ongoing planning: Considerable work is required to work with create accountability systems for high school students to be off-campus, to find bus fare from outside funders (Rotary Club purchased bus cards for students), and to engage in ‘PR’ work to encourage more teachers to mentor students.
- Build long term relationships between sites and the RWT program: All sites have a long established relationship with RWT and with the coordinator. The principals are described as very supportive. The informal placement and contact network is described as “a well- oiled machine”. This takes years to create and evolves into a more effective network over time.
- Begin with multiple, short-term observation site placements: The placement process begins in November. Carla sends e-mails of inquiry to all of the teachers asking for observational support (ie., permission for students to do initial observing in their classrooms). She also communicates that the opportunity will be presented in the second semester for an actual internship arrangement if the teacher is interested. In this way, only committed teachers continue into a longer term mentoring role.
- Next, plan for placing in a longer-term classroom site, based on student interests: Carla assess the grade level placement needs based on the expressed interests of her students. This is also communicated in the e-mails she sends out to prospective mentor teachers. Observation protocols begin later in November. Students have observation and reflection assignments within a long-time tested structure. It is during this time that relationships form between mentor teachers and different RWT high school students.
- Second semester course – place students in one classroom: After winter break, Carla asks students for requests and input into the placement process. By this time they have been experienced several different classrooms at several different grade levels. They have also been in special ed., and ELL classrooms, and high school math, science, etc. Things start to fall into place, especially in matching students with RTA veteran teachers who regularly host students.
- Students expected to model professionalism: RWT students are the best ambassadors for the program. Their participation in the observation module often sparks interest in internship hosting. Additionally, veteran teachers ‘talk up’ the program. In this way new teachers become interested. As students request teachers (veteran and new) Carla sets up placements, or follows through on her inquiries. It is handled on a case by case basis until all the assignments are made.