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The Teacher's Mentor

After 25 years of teaching kindergarten, retiree Minnie Holcomb still runs around on most school days shepherding a younger crowd. The former District of Columbia schoolteacher fills her charges with confidence, listens to their struggles, and offers pointers that only a seasoned educator could. Holcomb said her charges, first-year Washington, D.C., public-school teachers, keep her nearly as busy as her kindergartners used to keep her.

Holcomb is one of 35 retired teachers whom the D.C. public-schools system has recruited as part of its four-year-old "Retired Teacher Mentoring Program." Mentors take one to five teachers under their wings each school year, and advise the first-years on classroom management and instruction, and parental and administrative issues.

D.C. Public Schools traditionally paired the 250 or more new teachers coming into District classrooms annually with established teachers. But recruiting retired educators has given the mentoring program new energy. Retirees have more time to offer, and while they are familiar with the system, they're not entrenched in it.

The retirees are "extremely helpful to the new teachers," said Carolyn Pinckney, director of the school system's teachers' affairs department. Another sign of success Holcomb noted is that many tutored teachers stay in touch with mentors even years later.

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