In the earlier posts in this series, I talked about what it is to be a mentor teacher and how you can develop the mentor-new teacher relationship. Now, let’s dig in a bit to the main question: what do you actually do as the mentor teacher?
Well, it really depends on the new teacher you’re working with and what his/her specific needs are – as well as the requirements of your school or district. As the veteran teacher, you’re there to share your experience and help guide your mentee in all things education, including planning, teaching, differentiation, assessment, classroom management, classroom setup, the special education system, finding resources, parent communication, teacher evaluation, completing PD requirements, and more. You can provide guidance in all of these areas by chatting regularly, planning together, observing the beginning teacher, and inviting him/her to observe you. Read on for some tips!
How Do I Know What To Focus On?
If your district provided you a list of specific topics to discuss with your mentee, you’ll want to start there. Through your conversations, you’ll start to get a sense of areas where your mentee wants more guidance and areas where he/she may already have some experience. Definitely encourage your mentee to ask questions so you know where to focus! (And remember that just because new teachers aren’t asking questions doesn’t mean they don’t have any!)
During those first professional days when you head back to school, I suggest creating a calendar for the school year with a list of topics your mentee will need to know about. You can organize it by month or by quarter/semester. Look at the school calendar and maybe last year’s plan book to get an idea of topics, and then just start penciling them in.
The key is to go slow with your mentee and avoid sharing an overwhelming amount of information. In the very beginning of the school year, start with need-to-know basics about the school building, staff, accessing technology, setting up the classroom, etc. Then, you can move into first week of school activities and the first instructional units. Think about what your mentee needs to know (before you get to it) and what can probably wait, but be sure to plan ahead for important topics like report cards and end-of-year testing.
It might also help to chat up a second-year teacher in your building to see what he/she really needed help with last year.
Should I Do Observations?
Yes – and it should go both ways. It’s helpful for you to observe the beginning teacher at work, but you should also invite the beginning teacher to observe you teaching in your classroom (along with other teachers at the school if possible). Talk to your lead mentor teacher or principal about getting coverage so you can observe each other.
A few tips for the observation:
- Talk together about the observation before you do it (instead of just popping in). Ask your mentee if there is a particular area he/she would like you to focus on. (If there isn’t, I’d choose one yourself. It’s much easier to give effective feedback if you are focusing on one area.)
- Be supportive and positive during your visit. A little smile or a thumbs-up goes a long way!
- Take a few notes, but don’t write down pages upon pages. You’re not there to evaluate every single part of the lesson.
- On your way out, leave a positive note on your mentee’s desk.
- Meet afterward to debrief (the same day if possible). Start by asking the new teacher what he/she thought of the lesson. You can let him/her guide the conversation.
- Consider giving your mentee both oral and written feedback.
- Be sure to share positive things you noticed during the observation. Try to point out something unique or exciting that you saw, especially if it’s something you haven’t tried yet yourself.
- If you saw an area of improvement, ask some guiding questions about it in a way that encourages growth. Don’t attack the new teacher about it. Remember, you’re there to make suggestions and listen, not to nitpick and criticize.
How Do We Handle Planning?
Ideally, your mentee is on your grade-level or subject-area team, and would be part of any team curriculum planning that’s occurring. Definitely make sure he/she has a copy of a pacing guide, if there is one, and that he/she knows how to access school-wide calendars, planning materials, and teaching resources. You don’t need to help the new teacher plan every single part of every lesson, and you shouldn’t, but you might offer to sit down with him/her weekly to look over the next week’s plans and provide guidance as needed. If you know of instructional resources that would be helpful, mention them. If you have an awesome read-aloud that you think would work, jot it down. But don’t take over the planning process for him/her.
In addition to lesson and unit planning, it will also help your mentee to be reminded to look at the big picture. You can help map out units/themes by quarter/semester to ensure that all of the content gets taught by the end of the year.
As the mentor, you’ll have to get a sense of how best to support the beginning teacher you’re paired with. This can definitely vary from person to person, and if you’ve mentored before, you may have a very different experience the next time. No matter what kinds of things you’re providing guidance on, your ultimate function is to support the new teacher. But what if you notice he/she isn’t feeling so successful? Check out the final post in this series for some ideas about supporting a new teacher when his/her morale is low.
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If you need forms, lists, planning guides, calendars, and note cards, you might be interested in my Mentor Teacher Binder and Resources!