Working With A Mentor Teacher
Being a new teacher is never easy, so it’s great when a more experienced teacher becomes your mentor. I was lucky to my mentor right across the hall. Over the next two years, I routinely went to him for advice, and he was always a great help. (Thanks again, Jason!)
I hope you get an as good if not better mentor than I had when you start teaching. But how do you work with a mentor teacher? Let’s find out.
Getting to Know Your Mentor
Searching for your first teaching job, you will have many questions about potential schools. One question you should ask during the interview is whether the school has a mentorship program for new teachers. If they give you funny looks, I’d reconsider the school. New teachers need all the help they can get, and no matter how prepared you feel, it’s only a matter of time until you feel ‘lost in the woods,’ too.
So let’s say your new school has a formal (or informal) mentorship program. Hopefully, your mentor will teach the same subject, and have somewhere between 5-10 years of experience. Any less, and they wouldn't have enough experience to be an effective mentor. But why not more? Well, here’s a few reasons that come to mind:
- A teacher near retirement age may not want to fully engage with you.
- The age gap may be off putting.
- The way they learned how to teach may not synch up with what you learned in your teacher preparation program.
So you have a mentor teacher. How do you develop a relationship? First off, don’t fret. They know you’ll have questions/problems/complaints/frustration about the job. They’ve seen new teachers come and go, and being a teacher, they know from first-hand experience the difficulties new teacher’s face.
For an ice breaker, see if your mentor teacher can have coffee after school one day. It’ll be easier to chat in an informal setting, and you’ll start developing not only a mentor/mentee relationship, but a professional relationship all teachers need to excel in their shared profession.
Copy Their Style (Until You Develop Your Own)
Just like when someone starts out writing fiction, you won’t find your ‘voice’ as a teacher without first imitating others. And if your mentor teacher is skillful, copy their style in your classroom. But how do you figure out their style?
One word: observation.
During your planning period, stop by your mentor teacher’s classroom to observe how they teach. Here are some questions to ask yourself as you observe:
- How is the lesson structured?
- When do students seem most engaged/disengaged?
- How does the teacher handle discipline issues?
- How does the teacher hook students’ interest?
I encourage you to explore many more questions through your observations of your mentor teacher. If you can manage it, observe other teachers on different days. That way your teaching toolbox will be jam packed full of ideas you can use in your classroom.
Maybe your mentor receives a small stipend for mentoring you. Or maybe they get nothing. In my experience, the best way to give back is to be available to help out your mentor teacher throughout the year. “Can I make those copies for you?” “Let me know if you’re running late and need me to watch your class.” Stuff like that always brings a smile to a teacher’s face more than a gift card at the end of the year. (But if you want to do that, too, go for it!)
Being a mentee can feel a bit awkward; you feel like you’re constantly imposing on another teacher’s time. Again, that’s okay! That’s what your mentor is there for. And just think about it: if you stick with teaching, one day you can mentor a new teacher, too.
Thomas Broderick is a freelance writer and consultant in the education field. He lives in Northern California. You can learn more about Thomas on his website.