New Teachers

Mentoring Matters. Will You Take Up the Challenge?

Supporting new teachers elevates the profession for all of us.

October 14, 2011

Mentoring matters. It matters, because it offers acceptance, guidance, instructional support, hope, and optimism to teachers -- and particularly for new teachers. The act of mentoring is a part of the fabric of so many educational institutions. Yet it's still a piece that's missing at our schools for those new to the education profession. Why is that? With so many great teachers around, why are we lacking in mentors?

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 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?

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