|Gloucester Township EA President Angel McDermott explains how the SOS program has generated greater interest in the association among younger members. Also shown: SOS founder Marlene Rubin.
“Support on Site is about assisting new teachers—we want them to stay in the profession,” explained NJEA Secretary-Treasurer Marie Blistan. “In fact, we want them to lead the profession.”
Blistan spoke to 31 leaders from nine local associations that are piloting NJEA’s SOS (Support on Site) program during the 2013-14 school year. The group was assembled for training on how to create and support SOS in individual school buildings.
Support on Site originated in the Gloucester Township School district a decade ago. In 2006, NJEA packaged the program so that other local associations could offer this group support system to non-tenured teachers. In Gloucester Township, SOS has reduced the number of new teachers leaving the district and encouraged younger members to become more active in the association. At the same time, veteran teachers who serve as SOS facilitators report a sense of rejuvenation as they counsel those who have just joined the profession.
The problem of teachers with less than five years on the job leaving the profession remains in other districts, however, so NJEA launched the SOS pilot in hopes of injecting new enthusiasm for the program.
SOS consists of monthly meetings on topics of interest to inexperienced educators. NJEA has prepared modules on several topics, such as parent engagement, classroom management, and technology integration, although facilitators are free to select their own topic.
Woven into each module is a discussion of educator rights and responsibilities. Participants are also given an opportunity to discuss any current concerns and share their success stories.
“The SOS participants share their joys and their tears,” noted retiree Mary Jane Hackney, who served as one of Gloucester Township’s first facilities. “They become a family of new teachers.”
Gloucester Township EA President Angel McDermott explained that SOS helps new teachers see all that the association offers. “They understand that we are more than a union—we also provide important information and opportunities for professional growth.”
Administrative support, confidentiality important to the success of SOS
|Staff from Pine Hill School district share a laugh during SOS training. From left to right: Academic Supervisor Heidi Daunoras, SOS Facilitator Sharon Scott and Pine Hill EA President John Staab.
Ideally, SOS is a joint effort between the local association and building administration. That’s why NJEA invited administrators from the pilot districts to participate in the training, held at the Princeton Marriott on June 14.
Marlene Rubin, who founded the program in Gloucester Township when she was the Camden County Teacher of the Year, also addressed the pilot participants. Before she retired in 2010, Rubin worked as a supervisor and oversaw the district’s SOS program.
“It can be a wonderful collaboration,” said Rubin. “If administrators identify a need, they can ask SOS facilitators to address particular issues, such as classroom management. In the end, both the administration and association are served by teachers who have improved their skills and their understanding of their rights and responsibilities.
Of course, SOS participants need to trust that what happens at SOS meetings will be confidential.
“Trust is a key component,” McDermott added. “Young teachers need to know that they can ask questions or vent at SOS meetings without worrying that the principal will hear about it.”
Local association presidents who are interested in learning more about SOS or starting a program in their district should contact their local NJEA UniServ representative.