As of 2017, there were over 3.6 million public and private elementary and secondary school teachers in the United States serving nearly 6 million students. In addition, there will be thousands of first-year teachers starting their first day of school along with the millions of students attending school following their summer breaks. These new teachers may be coming directly from college, are older adults changing careers, or might be past teachers who are venturing back into the classroom after many years in a different profession. One thing many of them will have in common is that there will likely be some mentoring by an experienced teacher.
Regardless of a new teacher’s background or path to the profession, nearly all of them need some type of mentoring. Whether it’s done formally or informally, this mentoring will give the novice teacher a head start for the school year. But what if you’re the teacher doing the mentoring? There are several areas mentors will need to address for the new teachers under their tutelage.
New teachers know all about lesson planning, but the mentor must guide them to think about the varied needs of all students. Lesson planning often cannot be one-size-fits-all. The new teacher must consider the students’ learning styles, academic levels, special needs, and many other factors when developing a lesson plan. Mentors have the responsibility of guiding novices as they create lesson plans to ensure they can work for all students.
Many new teachers understand the concept of classroom management, but it is the experienced mentor who has the years of experience that will help them find the balance between nurturing students and being authoritative. The new teacher must also have the ability to handle multiple tasks at one time. Often, there is no single right way to make decisions related to classroom management, so the mentor teacher must use their knowledge and experience to help novices reflect on the decisions they make each day.
There are many professional decisions novices will need to make during their first few years as a teacher. To become highly effective teachers, novices will need to quickly learn to trust the professional decisions they make, especially when related to tailoring their instruction to students’ needs. They may need to consult professional resources from textbooks, curriculum guidelines, or pacing guides. Mentors assist novices and show them how to use these resources to their advantage.
One of the hurdles many new teachers face when starting their first day at a school is learning the daily routines and procedures that could become overwhelming if not addressed by the mentor. New teachers need the support of mentors to help them understand procedures and routines that can seem quite complex to the novice. These routines may include turning in field trip money, recess procedures, technology questions, learning where supplies can be obtained, taking attendance, and more. To the experienced teacher, these routines are second nature, but for the novice, they could be areas of stress. Mentors must be empathetic to the novice who may seem confused about these often-mundane tasks and routines.
Time and Effort
The mentor teacher must be willing to spend quality time and have the desire to help the novice. The mentor cannot think of his or her role as simply checking in with the novice each morning and then again at the end of the school day. The two must set aside time to meet and discuss issues and problems the novice may have faced or will likely face in the future. Contact between the mentor and novice must be on a consistent and persistent basis. The mentor’s quality of time with the novice is much more important than the quantity of time but setting aside blocks of time each week must be a priority.
Novices must have the opportunity to observe the mentor in action, and the mentor must spend time observing the novice as he or she teaches a class. In fact, it is a good idea for the mentor to observe and be observed by other experienced teachers as well, not just the mentor. The experienced teachers can offer ideas, suggestions, and constructive commentary to help the novice identify their weaknesses and strengths. In addition, as a novice teacher observes the experienced teacher’s classroom, they can identify the best parts of a lesson, ask questions, and model best practices.
Schools must offer reasonable support for both the mentor and novice teacher, which may include scheduling substitute teachers so the two can meet for an entire day to discuss important issues. Other ideas may include allowing the mentor and novice to co-teach a class or two for a single quarter during the school year, giving new teachers fewer responsibilities, planning some flexible scheduling, and sending the novice and mentor for the same in-service training opportunities.
There are many other strategies and ideas mentors can use to help novice teachers, but it is also up to each school and district to help mentors assist novices. School administrators must work hard to help novice teachers experience a smooth transition into the school and the classroom.
Only about 17% of new teachers call it quits following their first year in the classroom, but that does not mean that all school districts throughout the United States have the same low rate of turnover. It is vital that novice teachers receive the support they need during the first year of teaching, even into their second year and beyond if necessary. Study after study has shown that the quality of teaching is the dominant factor for student achievement. Mentors must be given the opportunity and the resources to help these new teachers who are responsible for their own students’ achievement.
No matter what strategies you use when you mentor a new teacher, student success should always be the top priority. Try to center your mentoring relationship around the reason you’re both there – the students!