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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Mentorship: Teaching the Teachers

Shira Loewenstein

Associate Director of New Teacher Support at Yeshiva University

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
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Comments (17)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

jantel's picture

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

Erica's picture
Erica
Special Education Teacher

This is a nice blog. I think that mentoring programs need to be pushed among all school districts. By all means we are not born experts and a little help can go a long way. I once had a mentor, however, she too was a new teacher and we ended up learning together. My current place of employment allows college students to complete their student teaching requirements in the district but does not have a mentoring program for new teachers.

Monica Burns's picture
Monica Burns
Educator, Consultant, ADE , ClassTechTips.com
Blogger

This is my sixth year teaching and my first year acting as a mentor to a new teacher. It has been a fantastic learning experience and provided a great opportunity to be reflective about my own teaching practice.

Paul Warren's picture
Paul Warren
Communications Liaison for The University of Scranton, uscranton.com

What a great article! You can also reach out and mentor people remotely. I have helped mentor a few people that have reached out to me through LinkedIn groups. Sometimes getting help and advice from a person that is in your industry but not connected to your specific situation can be invaluable.

A. Perry's picture
A. Perry
Elementary School Teacher pursuing an Ed.D. in Higher Education

What aspects of mentor training do you believe need the most attention?

Fabio's picture

This is a great blog, Shira. I know of many mentorship programs which are in place for school policies and procedures however, I am not aware of mentorship programs that deal with best practices.

Thanks for the resources listed. Are there more valuable resources that anyone knows of?

Sharing best practices is common in my school, however, we could bring it to the next level. It would be great to work closely with others in your school and work on the following: unit planner, deliver of the unit, assessment of the unit tasks, reflection of the unit, etc. The next step could be the sharing of this unit with other schools in your district.

Jaclyn R Palumbo's picture
Jaclyn R Palumbo
Autistic Support Teacher

"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."

I really enjoyed your blog post because it connects with what I am learning about in my first grad course. I am a fifth year special education teacher and reached a point where the skills I learned from my undergraduate degree had reached there limit. It became time to go back to school to advance my teaching skills to the next level and I am currently pursuing my masters in special education. In my first course we have been discussing the importance of reflective practice and professional development. It is very important to me that I am a successful self-reflector and can assist my colleagues in self-reflection to enhance our students learning. There is currently no mentor program at my school for new teachers and your blog made me think about how effective I could be at this to teach them my knowledge and the power of reflection. I would feel so empowered being a part of the new teachers ongoing education and it would help me remember the importance of mine as well. Thank you for giving me great insight into a new program I can start at my school!

Veronique Cooper's picture

Hello everyone,

I am a pre-service teacher. I love the idea of growth in the field of education. Education is continued growth. This article was very helpful, because I am a pre-service teacher I want to know that I will receive as much support as I can receive. Many districts and schools have a support system in place for new teachers, unfortunately programs only last about two years. I think it would be a great Idea for districts to create an ongoing program for all teachers. I am open to any ideas or tips on how I can find a mentor which I am still a pre-service teacher.

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal
Facilitator

Hi Veronique! I'm going to assume you're looking for a mentor who is currently a practicing teacher, so I'd encourage you to look for someone either through a professional organization with a student arm, like Phi Lambda Theta (which is connected to Phi Delta Kappa- https://pilambda.org) or NEA or ASCD (both of which have student groups). These organizations often offer learning opportunities that help preservice folks connect with experienced teachers, any of whom might prove to be a solid mentor for you. You could also consider maintaining a relationship with one of your own teachers from your k-12 days or one of the teachers with whom you do a field experience (aiding/ internship/ practica/ student teaching). There is also a lot of great information online here http://www.teachingwithsoul.com/new-teacher-mentoring-project

Finally, you should check out the New Teacher Chat (#ntchat) on Twitter Wednesdays from 5pm-6pm PST/8pm-9pm ET.

Good luck and keep in touch!

Doc student's picture
Doc student
Administrator from Yolo County

I am a California administrator. The credentialing system in California requires a 2 year induction program that must be completed in order to clear the credential. The program is called BTSA which stands for Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment. This program pairs up participating teachers with support providers. These support providers are veteran teachers who are preferably at the same school and teaching a closely related subject or grade level. The SP are in fact mentors who guide the PT through the 2 year induction. The PT and SP participate in much reflection and inquiry. There is much collaboration and opportunities to observe colleagues and be observed in a non-evaluative way. The program is very labor intensive, but the work is very meaningful. Of course the program comes at a cost. The budget for the 14-15 school year is tenuous and some school districts are not funding this program. Thereby leaving new teachers with an additional expense to clear their credentials. Overall the program is a beneficial endeavor, however, districts need to make it a budgetary priority so that new teachers can get their careers started and ultimately established.
Research shows that if new teachers are not supported, they leave the profession shortly after entering. This is unacceptable. Our kids need new, young and enthusiastic teachers. These teachers just need the right person or persons to be in their corner to push and encourage them when the job is not easy and they are tired, sick and disillusioned.

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