Imagine you're a teacher and brand new to the profession. Although you might be very excited for the start of your career, you are probably also very nervous. With all of the new things to figure out, even the best prepared new teacher still needs a great deal of help and support. I would even contend that there's really not anything that can prepare a teacher for their first year of teaching. Even if teachers feel confident in their skills and strategies, learning from a mentor with experience is essential to their success.
There are numerous reasons why mentoring is so important. Mentoring not only provides advice and guidance to the new teacher, they can also model the reflective thinking that all effective teachers possess. Mentoring needs to be more than just showing a teacher where the copier is; it needs to be the ability to plan effectively, navigate parent meetings, and strategies to meet the needs of every student. Mentoring processes are very informal—this isn't necessarily a terrible thing, but it can leave a lot left to chance and a lot in lap of the mentor. Because time is short, many mentors may not cover everything that needs to be discussed with the teacher. Creating a systematic way for mentors and mentees to meet with guidance on topics of discussion items is critical to the new teacher’s success.
Considerations for New Teachers
There are some aspects school leaders should consider about how structuring mentoring can support the success of new teachers. Here are some ways to ensure new teachers can achieve success in their first year:
Creating regular meeting times helps to ensure success. Everyone is busy—especially new teachers. There must be a scheduled time for mentors and teachers to meet, otherwise it won’t happen. This isn’t because of lack of good intention, it is just the reality of a busy school life.
Someone in an administrative role has to guide the process. In my experience, I have seen principals introduce mentors to their mentees, wish them good luck, and walk away. There needs to be an organized system in place so that the mentor and teacher know which topics need to be discussed. By doing this, principals can help to form the kind of learning-centered culture they want to see in the building. Better outcomes come from systematic mentoring than that which is left to chance.
Making a good mentor match is vital. The importance of the selection of the mentor cannot be understated. The mentor will shape the new teacher’s view of the school, the students, the parents, and even the administration to some extent. It is critical that mentor teachers are a positive impact and influence on the new teacher, while also supporting the vision of the school and district. Even though there might be a natural mentor who could support the person (e.g., a grade level teammate), there could be a better fit to help mold the new teacher into an effective professional.
Start with a firm foundation. Just like with any positive student-teacher relationship, the mentor-mentee relationship needs to begin with a personal connection. Too many times, we jump straight into the “work mode” of providing insight, advice, guidelines, and tips without really getting to know the person. Principals must make sure that mentors spend time getting to know the new teacher—it can help them to form a mentoring style accordingly.
Some personalities are very open to feedback and want to know every little detail about everything. Other new teachers will be much more into the big picture and want to know the overall philosophy of curriculum and instruction before they need to know any of the smaller details. Another reason to get to know the new teacher is that he or she might have a specific place in life that impacts how mentoring looks outside of the school day. If they have a young family or are newly married, they might be more or less flexible in putting in extra time before and after school.
Administrators need to remember that we should not leave mentoring to chance. Too often, we simply put two people together and call it mentoring. Good mentoring needs to be strategic and systemic—when it is haphazard, random outcomes vary widely. New teachers need a lot of support to be successful, and mentoring can be one of those critical pieces that mold eager new teachers into veteran teacher leaders who can one day become mentors themselves.
Want to connect with fellow educators to discuss teaching tips, education trends, and lesson ideas? Consider joining MimioConnect™, our interactive teaching community.