Serving as a mentor teacher for a new teacher is never “easy,” and it certainly isn’t made easier when your school life is flipped upside down. Mentoring and coaching when schools suddenly closed for coronavirus threw us a whole new learning curve (as did most things school-related!). Given that we may find ourselves in this situation again, I wanted to share a few tips for being a mentor teacher to a new teacher during distance teaching. I hope that instructional coaches will find these tips helpful as well!
Tip 1: Communicate
This is probably my #1 tip whether you’re teaching online or face to face. New teachers need to know they aren’t alone. I recommend finding a way to check in with your mentee regularly to answer questions, provide feedback, share resources, and plan for upcoming lessons/units.
This might involve weekly Zoom or Google Hangouts, emails, or calls and texts. If you don’t get much of a response, keep (gently) offering. New teachers are BUSY. But just because you aren’t hearing from your mentee does NOT mean he/she is okay! New teachers don’t always have the words to even know what to ask. But knowing that you have an open door is huge.
On the other hand, we don’t want to overdo it and overwhelm our new teachers. The key is balance. Keep your communication focused, regular, and helpful, and certainly be in tune to your mentee’s needs.
Tip 2: Get your mentee up to speed
The specifics of what each new teacher needs to know will obviously vary based on his/her experience, situation, and needs. That said, here are a few distance-learning-related topics I would prioritize discussing at the start of the school year (but not all at once!):
- knowing what digital resources are approved by your district, and where/how to access them
- understanding how to use available technology (let them practice running the virtual classroom with you as the student)
- identifying what standards are essential to teach and what should be put to the side (for now)
- figuring out what instruction, differentiation, and assessment will look like digitally
- determining all that other stuff (creating a classroom environment, setting norms, getting to know students, communicating with parents, etc.) – including anything that will be “due” to admin or office staff at the beginning of the year
There are plenty of great online communities that share tips and resources for distance teaching. If you belong to some that you feel would support new teachers at your school, share just one or two with them!
Tip 3: Share
We are all navigating distance learning together. As the novice teacher, though, you have plenty of knowledge to share. This is especially true if you taught last spring when Coronavirus hit. You’ll have lots of successes and sinkholes that you can talk about with your mentee.
But beyond sharing your expertise, what can you provide that will help that new teacher today? (It’s like when I go to PD and feel like I hit the jackpot when I walk away with something I can actually implement immediately.)
Can you share a lesson you’ve created? Send them your Google Slides or PowerPoint templates? Step in and teach for them for 20 minutes to give them a break? Can someone else cover their class so they can watch you teach? What can you share to lighten their load?
Tip 4: Plan ahead to find support
You will be a major resource to your mentee teacher, but you shouldn’t be the only member of their support network. Reach out in advance, and then regularly, to staff who can also support the new teachers at your school. This might include reading and math specialists, special education teachers, ESOL teachers, librarians, guidance counselors, and certainly technology support staff. All of these colleagues can help support new teachers with resources and strategies (hopefully sharing one or two awesome ideas every now and again – and not an overwhelming resource dump).
Tip 5: Be there
That’s it. That’s the tip.
I remember being a first year teacher and being SO EXCITED to set up my first classroom. Decorating the bulletin boards, arranging the desks, writing student name tags… If we start the beginning of the school year online, new teachers may not have the chance to do this.
Not only that, but they’re going to be thrown into an online teaching environment, which I don’t think ANY of us were really prepared for. New teacher survival mode just got even harder.
There will be confusion, and frustration, and disappointment. Your mentee will probably be feeling all the same things you felt in the spring when schools closed on top of all their new teacher worries and questions.
And if they aren’t okay emotionally, their job is even harder. So be there for your mentee. Be a shoulder. Be an ear. Be a support. This might be challenging in your new professional relationship together, especially if you haven’t met before, so be easy on yourselves, too.
That’s it for now. I hope this is helpful! If you haven’t already, be sure to read the blog posts from my Mentor Teacher Tips Series:
- What Being a Mentor Teacher Means
- The Mentor-Mentee Relationship
- What Do We (Mentors) Do?
- Increasing Morale