George Lucas Educational Foundation
Professional Learning

Advice from Mentor Teachers for New (and Experienced) Teachers

March 10, 2014
Photo credit: Veer

Being a mentor teacher to a teaching candidate is quite a privilege and honor, as you are integral in nurturing and helping that new teacher to reflect and improve upon his or her instruction. I recently reached out to fellow mentor teachers and asked them about their advice and best practices, not only for teacher mentors, but also for new teachers in the field. Here are some great quotes and points from these practicing mentors.

For New Teachers

Make Relationships with the Right People

Ted Malefyt is a middle school science teacher for Hamilton Community Schools in Michigan. He has a passion for project-based learning that creates relevant learning. He tells us to "build working relationships with the forward-thinking teachers who are excited about being a life-long learner." I remember that, when I first started teaching, there were some teachers who were often negative. I chose not to align with them, as I knew it would not help me nurture myself, nor remain hopeful about education. It's important to find colleagues that, although they may challenge you, still have the best interests of students at heart, and are hopeful about their roles as teachers. Build relationships with reflective, life-long learners to become one!

Make Sure You Really Want to Teach

Heather Anderson is an English and Spanish teacher at the Health and Sciences High and Middle College in San Diego, California. She has expertise in gradual release of responsibility, close reading and text-dependent questions. She echoes a core belief that I think all potential educators need to consider -- make sure you really want to be a teacher. "First and foremost, make sure that this is the career for you. I think that many beginning teachers have a sense of grandeur that does not meet the reality of the classroom. Make sure you visit schools before you student teach. We learn a lot of theory in our classes, but the actual implementation and day-to-day grind of teaching is very different than those courses you took in college." I really do agree with the advice to visit schools before jumping into a program. Set up interviews or coffee with a teacher friend and ask great questions.

For Mentor Teachers

Be Patient and Compassionate

As a veteran teacher, it can be hard to remember what it was like as a brand new teacher, or one considering jumping into the profession. Sometimes we focus so much on the technical side of becoming a teacher that we forget the social-emotional component. Heather reminds us, "New teachers are eager and passionate. They are also extremely scared and delicate. They need someone that they can trust. They need someone that they can celebrate with and also someone who will let them express their fears and concerns." Give new teachers the benefit of the doubt, be honest in feedback, and give time for improvement. After all, we were all there at some time.

Nurture Unit and Lesson Design

Sometimes we focus too much on delivery of the lesson rather than the design of the lesson itself. As mentor teachers, seek opportunities to let teacher candidates design or co-design lessons and units. I wrote about this belief in a previous blog. Ted says, "Providing as many opportunities as we can to design and create for the classroom is very important in changing the culture of education." I couldn't agree more.

For All Teachers

Become a Reader

I was not much of a reader when I first entered teaching. I think it was because I was "forced" to read material that I didn't find relevant. However, the more I looked for great books on education or got recommendations from colleagues, the more I was able to re-find that love of reading. As Ted says "I also highly recommend becoming an avid reader of books that deal with everything from education to innovation and creativity." There are so many books on education out there. Find something that works for you and that will push your thinking. It will help to keep you energized and model life-long learning for your students.

"Fail Forward"

Almost all the mentor teachers I talked to reminded me of a phrase I use often, to "fail forward." They expressed that all mistakes they made were part of the journey. As Heather says, "Teaching is a dance. You change your style and movements depending on your partner. With each student and each classroom dynamic, you, in essence, have a new partner." We all have good days and bad days, but every day we touch the lives of children, and we can learn from these moments to improve education for all.

Leverage Social Media

There is so much that social media has to offer teachers, both experienced and new. Build your PLN, participate in Twitter chats, read blogs and find resources. There are great ideas out there, and we can support each other. Consider sharing your ideas in a blog as well, if you're comfortable putting yourself out there.

I would love to hear more from mentor teachers, both in terms of the role they play and their advice for anyone considering the teaching profession. I believe that, although there is a formal mentor teacher in the student-teaching phase, we are all mentor teachers, and we have much to learn from each other.

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