First-Year Prince William Teacher Credits Mentoring Program to Surviving Teaching Amid the Pandemic
By Kelley Wyatt
After being a stay-at-home mom for eight years, Jacqueline Pelzer was ready to re-enter the workforce. She still wanted to help children, so she took a job teaching physical education and health at Potomac Middle School in Prince William County Public Schools.
She finished the EducateVA career switcher program in the spring of 2020 — just as the COVID-19 pandemic was taking hold — so she knew her first year as a teacher later that year would be different than anything she’d experienced. She was intimidated to lead a class in a virtual/hybrid environment, especially with having to learn the new technology from a remote location to start off the year.
This is where her mentor, Allen Mulligan, came in. Through Reach Virginia, a mentoring network that Prince William and 12 other Virginia school divisions participate in, Allen was paired with Jacqueline. The two were able to connect before classes started in the fall over Zoom, FaceTime, phone calls, and texts, which helped put Jacqueline at ease before she taught her first class solo.
When Allen was first asked about the opportunity to mentor Jacqueline, he jumped on it immediately. When asked why he agreed to serve as a mentor in the middle of a global pandemic, he said there were many reasons why he agreed. For one, when he was attending Radford University, he was in a program that helped mentor him when he was in school and student teaching.
Later, he moved from teaching in a small private school that enrolled just 200 students to Potomac Middle School, which has more than 200 students in just one grade level. And he had no one to guide him in the transition. Allen said he was also eager to mentor a first-year teacher because he wants to be a person that people know they can go to for help and advice.
When asked how the Reach Virginia mentoring program helped her in her first year, Jacqueline said, “Mulligan’s patience with me when I had any questions or concerns was extremely beneficial. He helped to respectfully build me back up and I credit a lot of my confidence this year to him.”
Allen added, “Every new teacher across the country should have a person that they can talk to, even if it isn’t an official mentor.”
Forty-four percent of new teachers leave in their first five years. Reach Virginia is working to change that. Reach helps a school division provide high-quality professional development that equips experienced teachers to mentor beginning teachers, all with the goal of retaining excellent educators. Reach Virginia supports 14 school divisions, from as far north as Loudoun County to as far south as Stafford County. Learn more at ReachVa.org.