We are proud and excited to announce that we are partnering with University of West Florida and Moreland University to mentor their student teachers in becoming high-quality teachers both online and off.
“The key thing to the mentorship is that we're in a collaboration together to reach the common goal — to help the students reach their career goals, to help the students graduate (and) to put the student first,” said Dion Lucas, a Proximity Learning mentor and teacher.
Our mentorship program helps students at universities reach the required class hours they need to complete their teaching certification. We interview and accept students into our program to be paired with one of our high-quality, experienced mentors. From the start to the end of the semester, the mentee and mentor pairs meet and learn from each other every week.
Proximity Learning mentor and teacher Dorvera Owens said she picked up great classroom management skills, such as how to remain relaxed when students are trying to get attention, from her mentee teacher, Jessica Cupo from the TeacherReady program at University of West Florida.
“Learning is a lifestyle,” Owens said. “We're continually learning. I've been in education since 1990 and I'm still learning things. So absolutely yes, I did learn some things from Jessica just as I hoped she would learn some things from me.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States at the beginning of 2020, many teachers across the country had to suddenly learn how to teach and engage their students online. Many weren’t trained and resultantly faced a lot of frustration, Owens said.
“We are trained at Proximity Learning for this,” Owens said. “Many of us even had experience teaching online even before Proximity Learning, so now being able to share how it's done with someone coming into education is a rewarding experience.”
Cupo holds a master’s degree in education and had previous experience as an Air Force Officer teaching chemistry and Earth and space science, but she said she needed to continue her education to meet some additional requisites from other states she was in.
“The reason that I decided to do the mentorship program through Proximity Learning versus in one of the other states that I was in is because I was in the middle of moving,” Cupo said. “I moved from New Mexico to Washington state and taught a classroom in Texas the whole time, so it allowed that flexibility to be able to complete classroom hours without disrupting the students or my life.”
Before joining our mentorship program, Cupo said her only experience teaching was in a brick-and-mortar classroom. She said she was originally a little leery about how she was going to be able to engage students online in the same way as she did in person, but found that it wasn’t any different.
“It quickly became apparent that each classroom had a different personality just like they would when you're teaching in the conventional high school setting,” Cupo said. “I was going to be able to have that same teacher-student relationship in this context as I was looking forward to having in any other classroom.”
One of Cupo’s favorite parts about the mentorship program was her weekly meetings with her mentor, Owens. Despite being across the country from each other, Cupo said she got very close with Owens due to her caring and genuine nature.
“It never felt like work or a chore to get to sit down, talk with her and learn from her,” Cupo said.
For Owens, she said her favorite part of mentoring Cupo was getting to sit back and watch someone else do what she does. Our program slowly introduces mentee teachers to instructing a class on their own. They begin with observing their mentor teach classes and end with taking full responsibility of lessons, including teaching, planning and grading.
Owens said she loved watching Cupo grow, get comfortable with teaching online and develop her own style of teaching.
“With a mentorship program, it's really important to let go of the reins and let that person develop their own teaching style for online learning because there's so many ways to do this,” Owens said. “Everyone has their own style and their own personality, and that's got to come through. The more and more the mentor steps back and lets it happen, the better.”
In addition to educating and engaging with students in classes, teaching online still requires the additional work of doing lesson plans, grading assignments and checking in with students and administrators. On top of that, Lucas said it can be difficult to balance work and home life while staying organized and taking care of family matters.
Especially while teaching during a pandemic, Lucas said she taught her mentee teachers about self-care, coping skills and doing things to destress to help manage stress levels throughout the day.
“We care for your mental and physical well-being,” Lucas said. “As a mentor when I'm guiding my mentees, I'm letting them know, hey, you're human too.”