Retirees helping guide those new to classroom

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 20, 2004

Vicksburg High School English teacher Traci Grantham, left, talks with her mentor and retired teacher, Bessie Otis, Thursday morning in the hall. Grantham and Otis are working together as part of a new mentoring program at Vicksburg High School which pairs new teachers with retired teachers. (Brian LodenThe Vicksburg Post)

[08/20/04] Troy Stewart may have thought he had learned all he could from Odessa Williams when he graduated from Vicksburg High School.

Today, however, Stewart is back at the school as a teacher, and Williams is giving him guidance.

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The two are part of a new mentoring program at Vicksburg High School that pairs beginning teachers with retired teachers.

Stewart, a math teacher and basketball coach, said working with Williams, who was his calculus teacher, is a welcome change from the experience he had his first year teaching in Yazoo City.

“Coming from another system, I got no help,” Stewart said. “Now I’m bombarded with help.”

Stewart and Williams meet once a week for one class period. Williams also sits in occasionally on Stewart’s class.

“I just want to help him get over any pitfalls he may have,” said Williams, who taught math for 31 years.

Principal Charlie Tolliver said the idea for the program came to him last year through several conversations he had with faculty members.

“I had lost a number of teachers coming in to this school year,” Tolliver said. He wanted some way to bring his eight new teachers up to speed.

Bessie Otis, who taught English, French and mythology for 36 years at VHS and Vicksburg Middle School, said mentors supplement the veteran faculty in helping new arrivals. “There are other teachers who are very helpful, but they have only so much time,” Otis said.

English and mythology teacher Traci Grantham said Otis has taught her how to approach mythology, a subject Grantham is teaching for the first time, and been her advocate.

“She has even gone to principals and asked for the books I need,” Grantham said.

Choir director Jeff Harrison said he draws on Shirley Harris’ 40 years of experience when he confronts issues unique to music teaching like fund raising and scheduling concerts.

Harrison said the best advice he received from Harris, who taught at Bowmar Magnet School, deals with how to build relationships with students.

“You have to have a rapport with them not only in class but out of class,” said Harris, who also said patience and observation is the key.

Having 28-year teaching veteran Carolyn Dent’s advice on organization and presentation has helped history teacher and cross country, track and soccer coach Jason Bennett overcome his lack of classroom experience, he said.

Bennett, who has an emergency teaching license because he has a history rather than an education degree, said Dent gave him “a whole stack of notes” before his first day of teaching U.S. history.

He knew how valuable the notes were, considering Dent helped write the state curriculum for the subject.

Bennett “has been given a big task,” Dent said, because students must pass a state-administered U.S. history test at the end of the year in order to graduate.

Tolliver said he hoped to see the mentoring program grow to other schools in the Vicksburg Warren School District.

Finding volunteer mentors shouldn’t be a problem, he said.

“The retired teachers haven’t gone and sat in a rocking chair and forgotten about education,” Tolliver said. “They get real excited about it.”