A key component of our district’s work with newer teachers is to connect them as soon as possible with an official mentor.
What’s the rush? Well, a widely reported study released last year found that 50 percent of teachers leave the profession within their first five years. When replacements are hired, half of them also are likely to leave, which represents a major disruption to the lives of students. Furthermore, a lot of the teachers who leave most likely financed their teaching degrees through loans and direct payments to colleges, which translates into a substantial financial cost if they abandon a teaching career.
We want to keep teachers working in the profession they trained for, so our district offers a comprehensive new-teacher program that covers topics as mundane as how to maintain a gradebook to more complex challenges like creating positive and rewarding classroom experiences.
And we put a high priority on mentoring. As colleagues of new teachers, the mentors have no formal supervisory role in teachers’ evaluations, but they are encouraged to spend as much time as possible in the new teacher’s classroom, and invite the new teacher to visit theirs as much as possible.
Why is a mentor important?
Teachers are far, far more likely to ask a colleague for direct assistance before they come to an administrator. No matter how open and supportive the administrator may be, the newer teacher may be concerned that requesting help may be interpreted as an inability to complete their responsibilities.
Another far more obvious factor is that a good mentor is a good teacher. The mentor has been able to effectively work for years with students, parents and colleagues. It only makes sense for the new teacher to get together with a seasoned mentor for continued learning.
What makes a good mentor?
The best mentors show, rather than tell, their colleagues what good practice looks like. This includes inviting the teacher into the classroom and sharing tests, projects, parent communications and techniques to structure the classroom for learning.
A second trait of good mentors is that they work on developing a broad and authentic relationship with their colleagues. These bonds of friendship help to break down many formal walls between colleagues, and are important in case the new teacher needs to ask for help. Lastly, a good mentor will suggest effective practices and help lead the teacher to solutions, decisions and classroom choices that will develop long-lasting habits.
Mentoring does not have to be formal
It would be a mistake to think that only new teachers need a mentor. If you have newly hired teachers starting in your district, help them to make connections with colleagues. All districts have unique cultures, and even the most seasoned of teachers will benefit from a listening ear and a helping hand.
For administrators, a good mentor may be found in your district, but reaching out to a colleague in a different school system will help insulate you from any internal politics, help you to develop professional connections and expose you to different practices. I chose my mentor based on the respect that I had for his district, and that ended up being a great choice.
Pass it on
As a new teacher, eventually your requirement for having to work with an official mentor will pass. Yet you would be foolish to think that your need for a mentor has also ended. A good mentor will turn into a trusted colleague, and will eventually work with you as you mentor new members of our profession.
The passing along of our collective guidance, wisdom and caring is essential as we work to keep teachers and administrators in our profession and to cut down on the too-high turnover that too many schools experience. Learn as much as you can and hand it along to the person coming down the path behind you.