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Achieving Great Advice—in Cyberspace

Janet Kilgus has mentored aspiring teachers, coordinated her state’s intergenerational mentoring program, and helped retired educators nationwide implement mentoring projects. Now this retired math teacher is coordinating an online community that connects Student members with the best resources experienced educators have to offer.


Photo by Rebecca Rasmussen


When I retired in 2003, I knew I couldn’t walk away from education. I was active in the Association during my 33 years of teaching, so I wasn’t ready to give it up completely. In 2004 I became the coordinator for the Illinois Education Association’s intergenerational mentoring program, Mentoring Educators for Tomorrow’s Success (METS). It’s invigorating to spend time with people who want to become teachers. I now have 12 mentees at colleges across Illinois

In 2005, members of the METS program began collaborating with MindUniversity, a professional development company started by two Active IEA members, to add an electronic component to our mentoring. Together we created the Living Library, an online community and storage system where Retired, Student, and Active educators can share their best classroom resources. When it started, mentors created online “file cabinets” to share their favorite lesson plans, classroom games, worksheets, and other instructional ideas with their mentees. Now educators nationwide can access these resources through the Living Library Web site, 

With all of the pressure of No Child Left Behind, teachers face even greater demands to improve student performance. They need resources at their fingertips and they need them fast. Retired educators have some of the best classroom materials, ones they’ve created during a lifetime of teaching. Why not share those great ideas and let other people use them? It’s one way we can make a difference.

In the next 10 years, half of all K–12 teachers in the United States will reach retirement age, creating a professional void that new teachers must fill. Yet more than 40 percent of beginning teachers will leave the profession before their fifth year, citing professional isolation and lack of administrative support as their primary reasons for leaving. The Living Library offers aspiring and beginning educators an electronic support system by connecting them with experienced teachers and teacher-created classroom-proven tools. To date, the Living Library has helped more than 2,000 pre-service teachers at more than 30 Illinois colleges and universities as well as more than 500 early-stage educators.

We don’t plan to stop there. Last year, our technology provider received a $300,000 federal grant to expand the Living Library. The grant will pay for new technology enhancements that will let students search the Living Library for specific resources and allow Retired and Active teachers to add documents to the site more easily. We will also develop a curriculum component that colleges can use with the Living Library and a professional development component for Active teachers, and create a committee to review all of the materials added to the Living Library and align them with national core content standards.

Initially, I chose to coordinate the Living Library for IEA-Retired because it sounded like a simple way to enhance our existing mentoring program. I never dreamed it would grow like this. By sharing their favorite classroom tools with the Living Library, retired educators, in turn, share in the excitement beginning educators feel as they launch their teaching careers. It keeps you young to work with these kids. Why not make a difference?

—Janet Kilgus



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