There’s a lot of great blog posts out there about how to survive your first year of teaching. This isn’t one of them. Instead, this blog series is written for YOU, the mentor teacher to a brand new teacher.
Connecting a beginning teacher with a veteran teacher who can mentor him/her through the first year and beyond is one of the most effective ways to support someone new to teaching. That’s where you come in! What many people don’t realize is that serving as a mentor teacher doesn’t always come naturally – or easily. It’s hard to find the balance between showing and telling, praising and critiquing, being a friend and being a colleague. It takes time for a mentor teacher to develop those skills and to develop a trusting, respectful, reciprocal relationship with a beginning teacher.
If you’re just stepping into the role of a mentor teacher, or even if you’ve been doing it for some time, you might have questions about how to rock it. Through this blog series, I hope to share some ideas and tips that you’ll find helpful. But first, you need to figure out what it means to be a mentor teacher – and what it doesn’t. Read on for some of my thoughts.
What Mentoring New Teachers Isn’t:
Assuming their education means they have it all figured out. Yes, new teachers have a lot of the tools and training, and tons of ideas, but nothing compares to on-the-job learning with your own students in your own classroom. There is still tons they want and need to know!
Copying your entire file cabinet for them. Sharing your resources seems helpful, but too much at once, especially without any guidance on what to do with it all, is overwhelming and unnecessary.
Making them do everything your way. Just…no.
Denying them a voice. You might think it’s helping Sally to not ask her opinion on something (why give her one more thing to think about), but that’s sending the message that you don’t value her thoughts. New teachers have the right to give their input, too!
Thinking they’re here to teach you. Yes, you’ll likely pick up some cool new ideas from your mentee, but it’s not his/her job to train you on the latest guided math strategy or be your personal technology coach.
Finding your newest gossip buddy. Blabbing all your opinions about the staff is not a helpful or healthy way to support new teachers.
Believing no news is good news. Mentees need frequent check-ins and opportunities to talk through ideas, successes, and failures. Don’t assume that because your mentee is quiet, everything is fine.
Neglecting your own personal or professional needs to help them. You matter, too! Ask for help from your lead mentor teacher or administrator if you need it.
What Mentoring New Teachers Is:
Being a coach. Listening, questioning, challenging, and guiding new teachers as they make decisions – not doing it for them.
Being a sounding board for ideas. You can help point out some things beginning teachers may not think about as they’re talking through their ideas.
Serving as a role model. New teachers need to learn from others, especially when it comes to tricky-to-navigate areas like parent-teacher relationships.
Providing a shoulder to lean on. When the lesson they stayed up all night planning goes terribly, they’ll need someone to vent to. Lend an ear and a few words of encouragement.
Cheering them on when things go right. Enough said!
Treating them like equal and worthy colleagues. Less experience does not equal less value.
Being a (but not the only) resource for information. As a veteran, you know the ins and outs of the school. You’ve got the pedagogical and classroom experience. Share the wealth (in small, manageable doses)!
And most importantly, letting them know they are not alone – and that they can do this.
I hope this list gave you some things to think about. If you’ve agreed to be a mentor teacher to a beginning teacher, thank you. I hope that you find it be a rewarding experience, and I bet you’ll find that it makes you a better teacher in the process. First, you’ve got to start by building a relationship with your mentee. I’ll be back with some thoughts about that in the next post of this series.
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