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The Teachers of Promise Institute is designed to provide the skills that college can’t offer.
Courtesy of Wade Whitehead
Wade Whitehead (right) was the third-grade teacher for Mandy Moomaw, who is now participating in the Teachers of Promise Institute that Whitehead founded.
Saturday, March 23, 2013
First-year teacher Mandy Moomaw has a hard time calling her colleague and mentor Wade Whitehead by his first name.
Old habits die hard, she said.
That's because Whitehead was her third-grade teacher.
He is also the founder of the nonprofit Teachers of Promise Foundation, which hosts a conference each year for the state's best future teachers. This year's Teachers of Promise Institute is being held in Richmond this weekend.
Moomaw attended in 2011.
As she, or any first-year teacher, can attest, the first year in the classroom is challenging, but she said her time at the institute left her feeling more energized and excited to teach than ever before.
"It's kind of just this amazing kick-start to remind me of the true, core reasons I decided to become a teacher. I have just kind of clung to that through these first seven months of being a teacher," the Monterey Elementary School special education teacher said. "It's just kind of been a lifesaver."
For Whitehead, seeing one of his own students join in a tradition of excellence he started has been reaffirming.
"I knew, maybe for the first time, we were finding the best," he said.
The goal is to celebrate these soon-to-be teachers and give them the extra skills and support to be successful, with a long-term eye toward keeping great teachers in the classroom and finding leadership opportunities for them.
This weekend's institute marks the ninth year Whitehead and others have gathered the top fresh talent in the teaching field. The event started in earnest Friday evening with a gala and continued Saturday with various workshops led by veteran educators.
"We provide tools for the tool box," Whitehead said, explaining he wants to give those teachers heading into the classroom skills and ideas from people who have been there. "Our goal is to teach them the things they don't learn in college."
For example, during the institute attendees learn about planning for classes in which students have a range of backgrounds, skills and learning styles. He said there's also information on differentiated instruction and technology integration.
"You're just not equipped to handle a lot of that," he said of first-year teachers.
The soon-to-be educators also leave with a network of support, both from the veteran teachers who have led the workshops and from peers who will soon be going through their first year teaching as well .
About 200 people attend the institute, including 130 Teachers of Promise and education deans from the more than two dozen universities across Virginia that send students.
Moomaw, a James Madison University graduate, attended after earning her undergraduate degree and then got her master's before going to work with Roanoke City Public Schools, from which she had graduated in 2007.
She teaches special education students in kindergarten through third grade and said the first year can certainly be tough.
"There have been days where I have found myself getting very, very frustrated and exhausted, wondering to myself, 'Am I going to break through to this child,' " she said. "Am I making an impact on her? Am I doing the right thing? Is it going be OK?"
She said she's drawn on the endurance and passion she saw at the institute, which is why it was started in the first place.
After receiving the prestigious Milken Educator Awards, Whitehead said he and other winners asked: Did they receive the honor because of what they had done, or what they are supposed to do? They agreed it was both and that they wanted to do something to improve teaching and learning in Virginia.
The first institute was held in 2004, and later the foundation was started. It is run by a board of directors and funds the institute. They do not receive any local support and rely on donations from their own planning team, the Virginia Lottery, the Virginia Professional Educators and some out-of-state supporters.
Whitehead, a teacher at Crystal Spring Elementary School, said fundamentally the institute and foundation is a teacher leadership effort, and he wants to explore ways the foundation can help advance the careers of great educators but keep them in classrooms.
He said a frequent question to good teachers is: When are you going to become a principal? But, he asked, why not afford leadership to people who want to stay in the classroom ?
Whitehead said this could mean giving teachers a role in evaluation practices, having differentiated staffing ( he proposes different levels of licensure ) and having teachers run professional development. He would also like to see experienced educators teaching those who are new.
"We want our best teachers in the classroom," he said, while noting good educators are needed in administration as well, something he didn't want to diminish.
For her part, Moomaw said, she sees herself in the classroom for the long term.
" I feel like I can make the biggest difference and have the biggest impact in the trenches, in the classroom," she said.
As for whether there are enough leadership opportunities to keep great teachers teaching, she said she doesn't have enough experience yet to weigh in on that. As had Whitehead, she spoke positively of educators who pursue administration.
She's looking forward to her second year .
"I love my students. I love my school," she said.
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