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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Losing Hope

In my early blogging journey, I began to explore the notion of mentoring. I began to reflect on my work as an educator, trying to recall the people in my past that had mentored me and those I had mentored. While doing this, I came up with an acronym for my consultant practice that I call IMET: Inspire Mentor, and Equip Teachers (to teach with soul). It summed up for me what I believe a true mentor does. Unfortunately, with the current challenges we face in education, I recognize it's hard for educators to take the time to truly "IMET."

About a year ago, I landed on the blog of a new teacher. One of her recent posts was entitled "Losing Hope." The teacher started the post by saying that she had a dream: a dream to be the best teacher she could be. To be the kind of teacher that students would be in inspired by. Unfortunately, there were no clear expectations set for this teacher at her school -- and worse -- no support. This teacher's perception was that they would be supported, as a first-year teacher. Instead they were placed in a "sink or swim" position. So this teacher sank.

My Response

I was moved by this teacher's post and I responded. Here's some of what I shared with this young teacher who asked for "positive and encouraging words":

When I read your words, "I believe I was under the illusion that I had support and help from all angles, when in reality, I hadn't felt more alone and lost." my heart went out to you. I was an elementary school principal for 14 years. During those years I consistently spent time mentoring, supporting, and guiding my teachers. It's truly my passion. If you read the research on why young people like yourself leave the teaching profession, it turns out that it is exactly for those reasons you describe. A school should work to foster a culture where its teachers collaborate and learn from one another. This is at the heart of how educators grow as professionals. Some of my colleagues still struggle with this piece. I apologize. We need to do much better.

I entered the teaching profession in my early twenties as a kindergarten teacher. I was fortunate to come from a family of educators. However, I still encountered a great deal of frustration and anxiety in my first year. I felt very alone, as I did not have a supportive principal, or mentor. I was new to the school. My kinder team members believed in "kill and drill" for kindergarten kids and I was mortified! In addition to that, no one on staff had a child development degree. As a result they weren't pleased when I began to talk about child development issues and how those directly influenced how children learn and should be allowed to develop. The use of hands-on learning opportunities vs. paper pencil tasks was not well received. The bottom line is that my first few years were rough! Did I have a mentor teacher? No. Was it hard? Extremely. But I kept pressing forward because I believed in myself and cared deeply for my students.

Mentors Offer Hope

As I finished my response, I was frustrated at the idea of the lack of mentoring support we are providing, even now, to those new to the profession. I was frustrated with the fact that this enthusiastic new teacher fell and no one was there to come along side and lift her up. Why did this teacher lose hope? We know so much more now about how to retain and support new teachers. So where was her mentor? No new teacher should have to stick it out alone. A mentor can provide the help -- and hope -- that can turn the tide of a difficult situation for a new teacher.

The Power of Mentoring

I believe strongly in the power of mentoring. I believe that this relationship is vital to the success of a new teacher. However, not all experienced teachers at a school site are able to take on this challenge. A year ago I had the idea that if there weren't enough experienced teachers at a school site who could, or were willing to mentor a new teacher, why not a virtual mentor who would be willing to lend support? As a result The Teacher Mentoring Project was born! If you're a new teacher or an experienced teacher who could benefit from a mentoring relationship, I urge you to seek out this group on the EduPLN.com community. To date, 152 educators from around the globe have made themselves available to mentor virtually, through the first years and beyond!

Invitation to Take Up the Challenge

Why aren't we making the time to mentor? Is it too challenging? Too much work? With the availability of Web 2.0 and social media tools, mentors could easily collaborate with a new teacher and offer a wealth of supportive online resources such as education websites, lesson plans, blogs, wikis, Twitter, and e-books. The power of these tools to support and mentor new teachers has great potential in the 21st century teaching model. With that said, I hope that in spite of the issues we face each day, you'll consider reaching out to a new teacher, even in a small way, and be a mentor. I believe with all my heart that they're counting on us to take the lead.

Share your thoughts. What can we do everyday as educators, to provide mentoring support?

Comments (23)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Heather's picture

I started teaching in 1987. I don't know if mentors were available back then, but I certainly could have used one. I was lost in many different areas and was constantly going to one of the other second grade teachers. Though she was helpful in some areas she was also "put out" by my constant questions. If I would have had a designated mentor I know I would have learned so much more. In addition, I would have been a lot more relaxed and I would have been able to be a better teacher.

Liz B.'s picture

I have been teaching in the same district for seven years. I have not had the opportunity to get guidance from a mentor. In a small school system, I was the only full-time social studies teacher. I did not have others in my department to "bounce" ideas off of. I wish I would have turned to an on-line source for this mentoring.

Liz B.'s picture

I have been teaching in the same district for seven years. I have not had the opportunity to get guidance from a mentor. In a small school system, I was the only full-time social studies teacher. I did not have others in my department to "bounce" ideas off of. I wish I would have turned to an on-line source for this mentoring.

Ms.Garcia's picture
Ms.Garcia
High School English Teacher from Navajo Nation

During my first year of teaching, our school did not have a mentoring program in place. But during the first week of school, I timidly walked up to another teacher and declared in a tiny, tiny voice that I would be bothering her for the rest of the year with endless questions and possibly running into her room scared out of my wits that I was going to screw up future generations. Thankfully, she laughed and invited me in her room after school to go over my questions and concerns. She did not come back this year, however, and I feel so lost without a mentor there to help me get to the next level in teaching- not just surviving but thriving in my classroom. I can only hope that when I finally have the experience and wisdom, I will keep a hand outstretched to all the new teachers in my school.

Lisa Dabbs's picture
Lisa Dabbs
Edu Consultant. Blogger & Social Media Marketing at Edutopia
Blogger
Facilitator

Hello All! So many wonderful responses to my post, I'm very deeply touched. All of you have many good, heart felt reflections that are so critical to the issue of mentoring a new teacher. Even on more experiences teachers that may want some support as well.
Kirby: your point on supporting those who will mentor with some guidenace is a great subject. Definitely going to talk with my colleagues here to see how we might do a series.
Ms. Garcia: Love the visual of you in the classroom with you mentor. So sorry she's gone this year, but I admire your future dream to be a mentor someday.
Jenny:Love that you have such great support! So awesome!
Again ,many thanks to all of you for your wonderful feedback and personal reflections.
Cheers!

RobertTESOL's picture
RobertTESOL
Adult ESL instructor at Virginia Beach Adult Learning Center

Lisa,

First of all, thank you for writing this blog entry. It's great to read that there are caring professional educators who are more than happy to help future and in-service teachers. But its also quite scary to read some of the posts from teachers who've not been blessed with a good mentor. I think I'm one of the lucky ones.

Currently I'm in the military and finishing my M.Ed in Adult TESOL. I also teach at a local ALC. I was a volunteer for the spring 2011 semester and was asked to teach for the 2011-2012 school year. The night administrator and Resource teacher have been outstanding. They've loaded me down with various textbooks to draw my lessons from. They've also entered my class a few times and offered constructive criticism on ways I can improve student engagement, but they and the ESOL principle continually reassure me and the other two new teachers that we are doing a great job. I have to admit it was and still is quite scary, since I had never taught before. I want to be successful in helping my students learn English. Even now after 6 months of teaching I worry that my lesson plans aren't effective, or that they're too easy or too hard.
New teachers emphatically need mentors because even with their guidance the new teacher still feels like they're walking on shaky ground. A good mentor can not only help build confidence in the new teacher but can also give guidance with concrete issues, such as disruptive students or differentiation methods. Thanks for the great article and helping me realize how fortunate I have been so far in my limited teaching experience.

Jonda's picture

Lisa,

I loved reading your blog. I too believe that it is very important to have mentors so that the children have someone to guide them. I was always taught in college that we as educators lead by example or model the deisred behavior to our students. This is my first year teaching and I was assigned a mentor by my principal like all the other new teachers. I have been so blessed to have my mentor as a resource and feel as though I have become more successful with her guidance. If I as an adult can benefit from being someones protege the so can our children.

Amanda's picture

I have been talking with my director (principal) at my school about starting up a mentorship program for our school. We don't have very many teachers but when new teachers start, we often forget to tell them everything that they need to know in order to make it through each quarter. Since I work in an alternative school, we do things a little differently when it comes to giving credit to students for doing work and many other things. It would have been so helpful for those new teachers to have one person to go to to help them with everything they have questions about instead of asking numerous people.

Eric's picture
Eric
EBD Teacher

I am a high school EBD teacher. mentors are so important to a young teacher, heck any teacher. I did not have a mentor at my first teaching job, I wish the teacher mentoring program had been there. At my second job, where I have been the last five years i had teh opportunity of having a 15 year veteran. All I can say is that mentors are great!

dhunsinger's picture

I very much liked Lisa's acronym: IMET: Inspire, Mentor, and Equip Teachers (to teach with soul!) I find this especially apropos in light of the pressures put on classroom teachers today. Anymore, if a person is lacking passion for kids and teaching they are simply getting out of the classroom, typically within the first five years of their educating career. Because of this, it is very important for a school to foster the culture of mentoring. The first year definitely bring an insurmountable amount of frustration, anxiety and exhaustion. It is very easy to lose hope, and when in the disillusionment stage, you begin to really look deep and question what you are doing and if you are making any amount of difference. If you are not part of a supportive group of mentoring educators, this is when a negative hold can be made, and possibly not shaken off. Too often teachers with great amounts of potential, but no support or wherewithal to maneuver that first year alone, begin to feel as if they are a failure. Losing hope is fatal to any educator. It is imperative that supportive and encouraging and knowledgeable mentors are available to turn to collaborate and learn from one another. The mentoring relationship is the life-link to the success of an inexperienced educator. I too agree with Lisa, that not all experienced educators make great mentors. Wichita Public Schools are very fortunate that we have this culture of support embedded in our district for both our mentors and our new educators.

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