Dave and I have been fostering rescued dogs through Desert Labrador Retriever Rescue for the past year or so. It works something like this: someone rescues a Lab from not great situations and calls us to see if we can foster. When we say "yes", we get the dog for a few days or a few weeks, depending on their medical needs, then we put them up for adoption. The adoption process is a bit daunting---I think you can adopt a child from Nairobi with less paperwork. Not really. I am extremely grateful for the process, as it helps us ensure we are finding people who are willing to go the extra mile for pups who have not had a great life so far. These are dogs who have been breeder mommies, never having a chance to run and play but rather staying in a kennel to breed more pups. These are dogs who have been found near Mexico in the middle of the desert, and whose mouths have, in some cases, been pinned shut by cactus and in danger of starving. And...these are puppies who just need to have someone love them until they find their forever home. We get a chance to keep them for a while, and our three Labs check them out (literally). I will admit that M.E., our oldest Lab, has gotten to be a bit like a crotchety grandma who is ready to snap or growl any time a new dog comes in our house.
Cue Kirby's entrance to our home. Four yellow Lab puppies were found down by Mexico. They were still with their mom but they were in a yard without a fence, which translates to highway traffic danger and coyote/bobcat danger. The rescue folks were terribly afraid the pups wouldn't last one more day without being eaten or hit by a car. We brought Kirby home when he was six weeks old, and we couldn't quit commenting on how tiny he was.
In the last few weeks, he has become a part of the pack. Every one of our girls has warmed up to Kirby (even old Grandma), but one in particular has formed a true bond with him. L.N. is our middle Lab. She is stubborn and strong-willed and she won't hesitate to let someone know if she isn't happy with their behavior. From the second or third day Kirby was here, L.N. began playing with him, taking her paw and pushing him onto the ground, letting him crawl all over her, and watching out for him when he got growled at by Grandma.
I started thinking about how grateful I am that Kirby has this sister guardian in his court and how much I wish every new teacher could have the support in their school that Kirby has in our family. Now, I have to be honest: I have seen such mentor programs and teacher induction pieces in districts in places across the country but I think they are few and far between. And they don't always serve the purpose that is needed.
What would a mentoring program look like that made new teachers feel welcome and want to stay?
1. Someone to teach you the ropes. It is the culture of our house that we do not tinkle on the carpet. Kirby made a few blunders early on, but now he seems to get the hang of it that the norm is we tee-tee outside. Same deal with coming to a new school. We need someone to show us the ropes---where is the copy machine? Where is the closest Starbucks? How do we submit lesson plans?
2. Someone who will help you when you are scared. I hate to say it is cute, but I find it absolutely adorable when Kirby tries to get old Grandma to play and she nips at him. He runs over to L.N. and lays down beside her (or between her legs, like this picture shows). He knows she will take care of him. We need the same thing when we are new at our teaching job. If someone can just calm my fears when a parent writes me a mean note, I know I will be okay.
3. Someone to laugh, joke, and play with. Dave and I have begun saying we don't need to go to any movies or out for any other entertainment as we now have....Kirbyvision! He and L.N. are so cute when they roll around on the carpet together. They never go too far in their playing. We need that same sense of fun in our workplace. The elementary school at which I was a principal for seven years (and a guidance counselor for 7 years before that) had that sense of fun in the workplace. Lance would text the latest funny joke to several folks, we had a couple of different book clubs and a Bunko group going on each month, and we could put together a potluck like no one has ever seen.
I know wherever Kirby ends up, he will make a fine friend to any family, in major part because of the love and encouragement he has gotten from his foster family. I wish the same thing for every new teacher (and seasoned teacher, for that matter).