Mentorship: Teaching the Teachers | Edutopia
Edutopia on Facebook
Edutopia on Twitter
Edutopia on Google+
Edutopia on Pinterest Follow Me on Pinterest
WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
Subscribe to RSS

Mentorship: Teaching the Teachers

Shira Loewenstein

Associate Director of New Teacher Support at Yeshiva University
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Share

You've been teaching for five years, and you love every part of it. You love the kids, your colleagues -- well -- you love teaching. The parents are happy, the kids learn, but you’re getting an "itch." School isn't as exciting as it used to be. The routines are becoming routine, and you know what the kids are going to get stuck on, push back at, get excited by -- nothing is new anymore.

You are not alone.

Should you pursue something else? Get on the track to become an administrator? Go back to grad school? What will bring that extra excitement back to your job? What will challenge you and, indeed, make every day an intellectual challenge? Would you want to stay if someone were pushing you to get better? If they were really challenging you to think about your practice and grow as an educator?

Channeling Your Expertise

Have you ever thought about teaching teaching? No, that wasn't a typo; it was a suggestion. You can become the next teacher of teachers and offer what you have learned to the newest members of the profession. There is no such thing as a "born teacher" or a "natural."

Author and teacher education expert Sharon Feiman-Nemser summed up concerns of new teachers nicely in What New Teachers Need to Learn, a 2003 article in Educational Leadership:

For the novice, the questions are unending: What am I supposed to teach? How will my students be tested? What will their test scores say about me as a teacher? What does the principal expect? Am I supposed to keep my students quiet, or do my colleagues understand that engaged learning sometimes means messy classrooms and active students? And after the first weeks of school, how can I find out what my students really know, deal with their diverse learning needs, and ensure that everyone is learning?

Teaching is a craft -- an art form -- that needs to be practiced and perfected. You know that new teachers don't know everything they need to thrive in your school -- even if they are really bright and come from a great graduate program. You have spent the past few years learning from your mistakes, reflecting on your practice, and perhaps now you are ready to help someone else.

Where to Begin as a Mentor

The first thing to do is look around your school. Is there a formal mentoring program going on? Do mentors meet regularly to talk about their mentoring practice? If so, you should join this community. Ask if you can become a regular at these meetings to learn more about mentoring from these mentors.

If your school doesn't have a mentoring program, you can start thinking about how to create one. Post a notice to your colleagues to see if anyone wants to be part of a book group with you. Begin the group by reading Beyond Mentoring by Jon Saphier or Coaching Classroom Instruction by Robert Marzano. Once you are acquainted with some of the basic principles of mentoring and coaching, you can start by observing one another and giving each other feedback.

Opening Your Classroom to Mentees

Now that you feel like this mentoring thing really is for you and you're ready to take the next leap, reach out to a local university. See what mentor training opportunities they have and how you can become involved. Your classroom may soon become a host classroom for new teachers, and you will be a mentor.

To become a teacher of teachers, or a mentor, you do not need to leave the classroom. You don't have to forgo the things you love; you are just adding another layer onto the teaching -- meta-teaching. This new challenge will help you think about your own practice. Why do you turn off the lights to get kids quiet? Is there a more effective way? Is there a different approach? Having another person observe your classroom regularly and question your decisions will help you grow in your own practice.

Becoming a mentor gives you a new peer group of other mentors and novice teachers. There is an entire world of mentoring, a ladder of professional growth. This field of new teacher support must continue growing to ensure that the caliber of our schools continues to grow.

Growing Within Your Job

Ultimately, the students need skilled teachers guiding them. As a skilled and proficient educator, you can't teach all of them every year, but you can teach their teachers. You can ensure that the teacher next door is thinking about his practice in a thoughtful manner. You can say with confidence that you know your kids will be going on to a reflective teacher -- if you are part of their teacher's education.

Graduate programs are always looking for skilled, thoughtful, reflective practitioners to open their classrooms to the new teachers entering the field. There are so many talented teachers who leave the field when they get that "itch," but you don't need to be one of them. You can continue to learn and grow within your current job, and help a novice learn as well. If you love teaching, why give that up for something else? Just start teaching the teachers.

What have you learned from a novice teacher that has helped improve your practice? What were some of the surprises you experienced taking on the role of mentor?

Shira Loewenstein

Associate Director of New Teacher Support at Yeshiva University

Comments (18)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Tess Brustein's picture
Tess Brustein
Co-founder & CEO of SmarterCookie

As a former teacher, I totally understand this "itch." I desperately wanted to learn from other teachers at my school and also help novice teachers in any way I could. Ideally, I would have been able to visit other classrooms, open up my classroom to others, and then exchange feedback. But everyone at my school was pressed for time, and preparing for the next lesson was always the priority that trumped teacher development.

In response to this problem, I've created a website called SmarterCookie (, that allows teachers and mentors to "visit" each other's classrooms asynchronously with the power of video. A teacher or mentor records video of themself teaching a lesson, uploads it to the platform, and can receive time-stamped feedback from anyone they chose to share the video with. I think any teacher who is interested in mentorship could support novice teachers more frequently and effectively by using a video-coaching platform. Words of advice are one level of mentorship, but actually seeing teaching in action makes feedback much more powerful and actionable.

Chie Mizukoshi's picture

I have just started learning how to teach, and I had the opportunity to observe a lesson conducted by a veteran teacher, whose lesson made me think that a class itself could get motivated by an experienced/expert teacher. This is a huge difference, which would let students encouraged to learn more or less. I had also such a nice training last week, where an experienced trainer told me that teaching was to bring out/extract from the potentials of students, which depends on how you teach them. I would love to keep observing lessons taught by experienced/expert teachers, which would hopefully be reflected on my teaching opportunities someday.

EducatingYourKid's picture

Check out these modules for developing teacher mentors. It's free. Developed with a U.S. Dept. of Ed grant to Georgia State University. Made in conjunction between 6 urban districts, public broadcasting, and higher ed.

High quality resource for a facilitated course.


Shira Loewenstein's picture
Shira Loewenstein
Associate Director of New Teacher Support at Yeshiva University

Look at all of these resources available to mentor teachers! There are many options for an aspiring mentor teacher to learn the art of mentoring. Once you find a good fit for your mentoring curriculum you and your cohort can really begin to fly.

Thank you for sharing your resources with us!

Conal Donovan's picture
Conal Donovan
high school English teacher and assistant principal

As Ferraro (2000) suggests, " [s]erving as a coach or mentor to peers is another form of reflective practice" (para.9) that will help reinvigorate passion for the profession. I plan to volunteer to mentor a novice teacher; even though there is already an official mentoring system in place, he feels it is ineffective and impersonal. I hope I can help him; taking on this mentee will be the fourth time in my 10 year career in a school with relatively high turnover. I would like to take a new approach other than resource sharing and just 'being there'. I want to create a collaborative growth plan with the novice teacher; traditional professional development that focuses only on the practical and technical aspects of teaching ignores some of the other soft skills teachers need to address, such as teacher attitude and relational intelligence (Ferraro, 2000). I intend to visit the teacher's class regularly and invite the teacher into my classroom in order to gather information so we can have discussions not only about how we teach, but how our beliefs and perceptions influence both how and why we teach the way we do (Ferraro, 2000). As Brookfield (1995) points out, "[l]ength of experience does not automatically confer insight and wisdom" (para.27). I will likely have, in working with a novice teacher, more to learn about myself than I can offer to him about teaching.


Brookfield, S. (1995). The getting of wisdom: What critically reflective teaching is and
why it's important. In Becoming a critically reflective teacher. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Retrieved from

Ferraro, J. M. (2000). Reflective practice and professional development. ERIC Digest
(ED449120). Retrieved from

Jessica's picture
Building Confidence in Students, One Child at a Time

Thanks a lot for sharing this interesting post! I totally agree with you that teachers play an important role in the life of a student. They are considered to be the role models for the students. It is important for teachers to motivate students and support them in every way they can.

jantel's picture

Nice post.Teaching not only subjects is not a teachers job.They have to build students creativity and imagination.

Sign in to comment. Not a member? Register.