George Lucas Educational Foundation
Professional Learning

Supporting Teachers: Mentors on Mentors

Mentor educators recall their time as protégés.

April 21, 2008

We asked education professionals with varied levels of experience in mentoring about the job and how they approach it. Here's the second in a series of responses to four questions:

How did you find your first mentor, and what's the best thing you remember about working together?

I didn't have anyone officially, but I worked very closely with my colleagues in the Peace Corps Fellows Program who were studying with me at San Francisco State University. The best thing was having peers who were going through the same thing.

-- Laura Masko, Jefferson Union High School District, Daly City, California. She mentors secondary English and social studies teachers.

Joe Gorder

Credit: Courtesy of Joe Gorder

My mentors during my first few years of teaching were three excellent, experienced teachers, and they took me under their wing from day one. They not only shared their knowledge and resources with me but also made me feel valued for what I could contribute, and they listened to my ideas and suggestions. Like all good teachers, they were always looking for new ideas and ways they could improve, and they realized that even a first-year teacher had a lot to offer.

I knew I could go to them with anything and they would support me in the decisions I made in my classroom. Each had his or her own style and personality, but there was a common thread of professionalism, love of students, and passion for teaching that inspired me to be a better teacher.

-- Joe Gorder, mentor, Lake Washington School District, Redmond, Washington. Gorder works with first-year secondary teachers of all subjects.

I did not have a mentor when I first started teaching. In the middle of January, the school gave me a portable classroom with twenty-six sixth graders. I felt totally abandoned, with few resources, limited supplies, and no one's shoulder to cry on. But cry I did. My teaching mentor came a few years later, in the form of a new principal at our school.

Mary Eldred

Credit: Courtesy of Adam Dementieff

She treated me like I was the most important thing in her life. She listened well, and not in a condescending way; she really heard what I needed to say. She was someone I could cry and laugh with. I would almost always leave her office with a smile on my face. She made me feel good about myself and about my work as a teacher. Watching her achieve her dreams, despite many odds, inspired me to do the same. She continues to be my mentor. Although thousands of miles separate us, I know she is just an email or a phone call away -- and she will always be there for me.

-- Mary Eldred recently joined the Alaska Statewide Mentor Project after mentoring for four years in the Anchorage School District. She coaches first- and second-year teachers in multiple grade levels and subject areas.

Pat McDonald

Credit: Courtesy of Adam Dementieff

My mentors are my colleagues. The best thing about working with them is their commitment to the profession as demonstrated by their serious search for answers to the hard questions.

-- Pat McDonald, Fairbanks North Star Borough School District, Alaska. She mentors teachers in multiple grades and subject areas.

Mylinda Mallon

Credit: Courtesy of K. Andrews

My most significant mentors have been my teammates and the administrators I have worked under. My relationship with these colleagues challenged me to reflect on my practice and continually consider the ways in which my teaching impacted student learning. Collaborating with teammates and observing others on a regular basis was incredibly valuable. My last administrator was very well read and shared research and readings on practices to improve student learning. This approach encouraged me to reflect and refine my teaching.

-- Mylinda Mallon, Lake Washington School District, Redmond, Washington. In her six years of mentoring, she's worked with teachers in all grade levels but now focuses on K-6 teachers in both general and special education.

Melissa Barkin

Credit: Courtesy of Thomas Barkin

My first year, I spent a great deal of time working with another young teacher who had been teaching at my school for three years. Although she was a science teacher and I was a history teacher, I was still able to learn an unbelievable amount from her. She was extremely supportive and helped me discriminate between the frustrations worth fretting over and those that weren't important. When I observed her class, I was able to see how at every moment she did something that added to the success in her classroom. This relationship contributed significantly to my positive experience as a first-year teacher.

-- Melissa Barkin, Roma High School, Rio Grande Valley, Texas. Barkin teaches full time and mentors a first-year social studies colleague. She trained new Teach for America instructors over the summer.

Lisa Morehouse, a former teacher, is now a public-radio journalist and education consultant.

Read the third article in this series.

Teaching the Teachers: A Guide to Mentoring Categories

Informal: Though the majority of states mandate and sometimes fund formal teacher-mentor programs, many do not. Concerned principals in these states may assign buddy teachers, pairing new teachers with experienced volunteers. Buddy teachers usually focus on psychological support and coping strategies rather than educational development.

Master teachers: Mandatory programs pair beginning teachers with tenured teachers, teachers with master's degrees, or those with three or more years of experience. Districts may pay stipends with local or state funds and often give release time for mentors to observe new teachers in the classroom. In rare cases, mentors provide formal evaluations.

Mentor teams: A portion of state-mandated programs require a team approach in which some mentors fulfill the social-support function; others assess the novice's performance for purposes of employment or certification.

Outside mentors: Some districts partner with nearby universities to bring college faculty on site to mentor new teachers. The universities or state grants usually fund these programs.

Do-it-yourself: In districts with no mandates or a shortage of mentors, new teachers can seek out their own informal mentoring relationships. Teachers can even do mentoring via email through Web sites such as's MightyMentors.

-- Steven Saint

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