If you’ve agreed to serve as a mentor teacher, you’re probably wondering what that means! What exactly is a mentor in the school setting?
A mentor teacher is an experienced teacher who supports new teachers and/or student teachers. Generally, mentor teachers are matched with novice teachers at the same school, ideally in the same grade level or discipline, or at a neighboring school within the district.
Connecting a beginning teacher with a veteran who can support and coach him/her through the first year is one of the most effective ways to support someone just getting started in education. But this role 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 to develop mentoring skills and an effective mentor-mentee relationship.
Before you come up with a plan to rock your role, you first have to know what it means to be a mentor teacher – and what it doesn’t.
What Mentoring 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 all of your resources 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.
Doing everything for them. Sure, you want to make things easier for your mentee, but that won’t help in the long run! New teachers need to figure it out with your coaching.
Thinking they’re here to teach you. 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. Beginning teachers need frequent check-ins and opportunities to talk through ideas, successes, and failures. Don’t assume that because he/she is quiet, he/she 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 Teachers Is:
Being a coach. Listening, questioning, challenging, and guiding new teachers with your experience and skills 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. Novice 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 helps you get a better idea of the role of a mentor teacher. I hope that you find it to be a rewarding experience, and I bet you’ll find that it makes you a stronger educator in the process. First, you’ve got to start by building a new teacher – mentor relationship.