A weekend interview with Barbara Miraglia, Hillsborough County mentor teacher
As part of its major overhaul in teacher training and evaluations, the Hillsborough County school system asked veteran teachers to mentor new educators, so they might find a better chance at success. Barbara Miraglia jumped at the chance. She left her job teaching seventh grade social studies to mentor 14 teachers at Franklin, Young, Van Buren, Orange Grove and Ferrell middle schools. Miraglia spoke with reporter Jeff Solochek about how the year worked out.
How did you decide you wanted to be a mentor teacher?
I had the opportunity to work on some of the committees that were teacher based for the last probably year and a half. And filing for the Gates grant, it was kind of the teacher advisory committee. I had the opportunity. So I was somewhat familiar with the program. And it just seemed like a phenomenal opportunity, a kind of pay it forward opportunity for the mentoring that I had received from teachers and colleagues when I became a new teacher. Teaching is a really hard thing and there is so much going on. The thing that was so unique about this was that the mentors were fully released from their own caseload. So in the past you had mentors on campus but they were busy with their kids, too. It was hard and it was difficult for them to give new teachers time and when I heard about this it just seemed like such a wonderful opportunity ... that I just really wanted to become part of it.
Where had you been teaching before?
I'm a middle school teacher, primarily seventh grade. I teach seventh grade social studies. And I was at James, which was a K-8, and also at Giunta, a middle school in Riverview. I've been at Giunta since it opened. So this is my eighth year.
Are you mentoring middle school social studies teachers?
I am mentoring middle school teachers. Mentors are generalists, so we are not specific to one subject. I do have a couple of social studies teachers, but I have othters in a variety of subjects.
How does it work? Do they come to you? These are first year teachers. How do they even know what to ask? Or do you need to know what to look for?
It's a combination of both. I go to them, mainly, but certainly they come to me all the time as well. And for a variety of different things. As a mentor I go into their classrooms, I do observations, I coach them through different things. But there are many times that they present different issues or concerns to me and ask for advice. So it's very two sided. They come to me. I go to them. I help them in areas that I see as a need. And they certainly tell me what's on their mind as far as what they think they need, as well.
What is the thing you've heard the most this year as you got started?
The statement that I heard the most was, 'Wow, teaching is a lot harder than I ever thought it would be.' That was the thing I heard the most. But it changed. In the beginning it was very much, What do I do? Where's the jumping off point? And classroom management. And now as we're closing out the year, it's really more on keeping students engaged as they're excited and ready to be out for the summer. And lesson planning and so it's kind of run the gamut of different things we've worked on.
Do you see the effort working in the way you envisioned it would?
Absolutely. In fact, probably moreso than I ever thought it would. I have seen so much growth in my new teachers. And I know as a mentor cadre we have all expressed the same thing. It's been so rewarding. In the beginning, you miss your own students. But the end result is just as rewarding because you're seeing the growth and the learning that our teachers have. And they are now impacting all of their students even more.
Give me an example of what you would do in a day.
Okay. Generally, I set meetings in advance with my teachers so they know when I am coming. ... I have five different schools that I mentor at. And I have 14 new teachers that I work with. I basically ping pong to their schools every day. ... I'm at all five throughout the week. On a given day I'm probably at three of those schools. I go. I observe. We do paperwork. We analyze student work. We look at data. We talk about anything that is going on -- classroom management, or we lesson plan. Sometimes we pull resources for lesson plans. A typical day is not typical. It varies depending on the person that I'm working with, and it changes for me almost every hour.
At the end, are you evaluating them? Are you an administrator for them?
No. In fact, I don't evaluate them at all. The program, the way that it was designed ... is that we are not evaluative at all on our new teachers. That has really been a strength of the system because it allows them to open up to us, to allow us to explore areas that they're having a challenge with or feel might be difficult for them. Because they know we're not evaluating them, there's nothing that can come back and get them. It's not, I know you're not very strong in this so I'm evaluating you. They have their own separate evaluators that come in. My job is to prepare them and work with them so they are growing stronger and stronger every week. At the end of the year, the only thing I sit down and do with them as far as what they have successfully completed is TIP, the Teacher Induction Program, and they have a series of classes and paperwork they have to finish and be successful with. ...
Do you get new teachers for the new year, or do you stick with them?
That is an excellent question. I am not sure. Because of movement throughout the district ... it's kind of based on numbers where we'll be based next year. I hope I can keep the same schools next year, because not only have I forged relationships with the teachers there, but also the administrators. ... I don't follow the teachers. I stay with the schools.
But teachers get mentors for more than one year?
Yes. If I have a mentee who transfers to a new school ... the mentor who is assigned to that school would be assigned to them and pick up where I left off. ... I can't imagine that I won't be in contact with them. I've worked so closely with them all year, and we talk constantly. ...
How did you know you could do this?
I guess you don't know for sure until you do it. I think I've been fairly successful. ... I've had the opportunity to mentor many teachers through my career. I was a team leader, I worked with tons of teachers and different personalities. I think my strength is in communicating and building relationships with people. That is the cornerstone of this program, building a relationship with someone so they will open up to you, so they know that you are there for them. Being able to read them and to know exactly what they need so you know how far you can push and when you need to back off. Just communication skills. I think for me I felt confident I'd be able to build relationships with my mentees and then go from there.
So you want to keep doing it?
I would be it until they kick me out. I love it. It is honestly so very rewarding. ... I feel so much stronger as a teacher because I've had the opportunity to see so many phenomenal situations, and different situations, in a myriad of schools. I am able to work with so many professionals who are really just at the top of their game. It is just phenomenal, the whole program. I don't have one criticism or complaint about any of it. I love it all.
Have you heard any complaints or criticisms? I know that when all of these changes started coming to Hillsborough schools for teachers, I heard lots.
Yeah. The mentor program, not so much. Most people are very receptive to mentors. In fact, it's kind of a joke among veteran teachers. They're like, 'Where's my mentor? I want a mentor.'Because we're really somebody who's right there, side by side. On some days I'm making copies. I might be co-teaching, or modeling lesson, or helping with grading, and all sorts of things. So a mentor would be phenomenal for all teachers. But it's critical for a new teacher.