EDUCATION WEEK MAGAZINE,
SEPT. 25, 1996
AND TEACHER MAGAZINE, OCTOBER, 1996
WORKING THE WEB By Jeanne Ponessa Scott Mandel's Internet guest book
is filled with requests for help, words of thanks, and lavish praise.
And then, of course, there are the exclamation points.
"WOW!" begins one California teacher. "I just found you,
and I am overwhelmed. I am a first-year teacher, and I need some ideas
for the first week of school. I am really nervous."
"Great site!" writes another teacher, this one from New York.
"I've saved the various lesson plans. Whatever I don't use will be
passed on to colleagues. I'll send along some lessons, too."
"Hallelujah!" rejoices a visitor to the site from South Carolina.
"Wish I'd found this before. Please keep up the good work. You know
how isolated/frustrated teachers can feel. You are a real encouragement."
Mandel, contrary to what some entries might imply, is a middle school
teacher--not a guru or inspirational healer. But he, or at least his site
on the Internet's World Wide Web, has attained almost cult status among
web-surfing teachers looking for support and networking opportunities.
And judging from the success of Teachers Helping Teachers, which has had
more than 100,000 hits in the past year, he has tapped in to a largely
"Teaching is such a lonely profession," Mandel says. "The
only way we can improve it and prevent burnout of new teachers is for
more experienced teachers to help those coming in." Thoughtful exchanges
on teaching techniques are not likely to happen during the jampacked schedule
of the school day. That's why Mandel thinks the Internet makes such an
ideal venue for the exchange of ideas. "At home, you're relaxed,"
he says. "Then it's a perfect time to do this networking."
Mandel's web site, and most of his knowledge of the Internet, dates to
just over a year ago. An English, history, and musical-theater teacher
at Pacoima Middle School in Los Angeles, he decided to spend time over
the summer making himself Internet-literate. He wanted to create a forum
that could help other teachers.
Teachers Helping Teachers was launched a year ago as a tips page, with
Mandel supplying about 80 percent of the material and friends the rest.
But when Yahoo, a searchable directory of Internet sites, began listing
his site, the number of visitors jumped from about 75 a day to as many
as 400, and the lesson ideas began pouring in. Now, about 85 percent of
the ideas come from the outside.
Teachers who log in can select from a variety of subject areas ranging
from classroom management to special education. A teacher clicking on
"Social Studies," for example, is greeted by an animated graphic
featuring two spinning globes. Scrolling down the page, the reader finds
a list of lesson suggestions such as "Political Movements in America:
How Are Issues Promoted?" and "Multi-culturalism Today: Studying
The site also features education resources and stress-reduction tips.
A newer feature lets teachers "chat" with colleagues in real-time.
Readers submit between 20 and 40 questions and problems each day. Mandel
turns some of those queries into a special topic of the week. But if the
question is urgent in nature, Mandel will supply an answer within 48 hours.
The web site's most revealing page is the guest book, which serves as
a kind of bulletin board for teachers. Each listing includes a brief comment
from the visitor, along with an e-mail address to which others can send
responses. "I just found this section while browsing," a Virginia
teacher wrote last August. "Wow! I'm looking for ideas on teaching
ancient Egypt to 2nd graders."
A teacher from Wisconsin writes: "Help...9th grade U.S. history
teacher looking for a Macintosh mentor to help me learn more about the
Internet so I can use it more effectively in the classroom."
Like the queries teachers send in, each guest-book entry gets a personal
response from Mandel. The whole operation takes about eight to 12 hours
of his time each week. He gets no money for running the service. "This
is my pro bono work," he says.
Mandel describes the Internet as "the ultimate" teacher-resource.
"I may be working on a lesson, and I need a piece of information,"
he says. "I can get it on the Internet."