Once we know what it means to be a mentor teacher, we can dig into figuring out what you actually do. While the role of a mentor teacher will vary somewhat with each new teacher’s specific needs (as well as the requirements of your school or district), there are some general mentor teacher responsibilities that you can expect to take on. Let’s dig in!
What Are the Typical Mentor Teacher Responsibilities?
As the veteran teacher, you’re there to share your experience and help guide a beginning teacher in all things education.
This might include 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 and coaching in all of these areas by communicating regularly, planning together, conducting observations of the new teacher, and inviting him/her to observe you.
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 he/she wants more guidance. Definitely encourage the new teacher to ask questions so you know where to focus! (And remember that just because they 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 last year’s plan book to get an idea of topics your mentee needs to know. Be sure to plan ahead for important topics like report cards and end-of-year testing.
The key is to go slow and avoid sharing an overwhelming amount of information. In the very beginning of the school year, I start with need-to-know basics about the school building, staff, accessing technology, setting up the classroom, etc. Then, I move into first-week-of-school activities and the first instructional units.
It might also help to chat up any second-year teachers in your building to see what they really needed help with last year.
Should I Do Mentor 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 him/her to visit you 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 a new teacher observation:
- Talk together about the observation before you do it (instead of just popping in). Ask if there is a particular area he/she would like you to focus on. (If there isn’t, I’d choose one. It’s much easier to give effective feedback if you are focusing on only 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 and pages of feedback.
- 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?
Hopefully, the teacher you are mentoring 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 knows how to access school-wide calendars, planning materials, pacing guides, and other essential 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.
No matter what kinds of things you’re providing guidance on, your ultimate role as a mentor teacher is to support and coach the new teacher. Co-planning, teacher observations, and feedback will all likely be part of your mentor teacher responsibilities. Setting up a mentor teacher binder is a huge help in staying organized.
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