By Linda Barrington, MJE
JEA Mentor Program chair

Julie Felser

Julie Felser, newspaper adviser at Marquette University High School in Milwaukee, Wis., invited her mentor, Linda Barrington, to teach her editors how to coach writers. After seeing the lesson modeled, Julie will be able to teach the lesson herself in the future. Photo by Linda Barrington

I always listen to Nick Ferentinos when it comes to mentoring.

A retired journalism teacher and master mentor for the New Teacher Center in Santa Cruz, Calif., Nick and Steve O’Donoghue (California Scholastic Jouralism Initiative) brought the idea of a Mentor Program to JEA in 2007.

So when I got an email from him about an article about mentoring in the Oct. 11 New York Times titled “As Apprentices in Classroom, Teachers Learn What Works,” I clicked on it right away.

“So may good ideas here for mentors,” Ferentinos wrote. “Some of it’s painfully familiar, but it’s uplifting by the end.”

Indeed, the article provides good examples of mentors working with apprentice teachers (not student teachers from a university education program). In this article, the scenarios specifically profile charter schools and focus on classroom management to the exclusion of content knowledge.

Don’t let that stop you from reading the article.  There are a lot of good suggestions for mentoring, like modeling a lesson, reviewing lesson plans, suggesting instructional strategies, or helping to develop an alternate activity.

What the author of this New York Times article fails to address is the importance of content knowledge for a teacher.  Certainly, classroom management and student motivation are important, but without an understanding of the content, teachers will fail to give students an adequate education. In the field of journalism, it also means the likely failure of the student publication/media.

The article has some good ideas, but remember that content is king, as they say.  JEA mentors focus on subject-specific, journalism mentoring.

While JEA mentors find themselves working with some beginning teachers, many of them work with experienced educators who are suddenly assigned to teach journalism when they have little or no background or experience in this subject area. Subject-specific mentoring, tailored to each mentee’s needs, is the hallmark of the JEA Mentor Program.

That’s what Ferentinos said we need to do, provide outstanding journalism educators as mentors for the new journalism advisers and teachers who need help getting started.

I wasn’t the only one who listened to him, which is why we have the JEA Mentor Program.

Look for the article in November’s Mentoring Matters newsletter about mentors who model teaching in their mentees’ classes or workshops.