There was a big article in our local paper last month about how new teachers entering the profession are not getting the help and support that they need. It went on to talk about how new teachers coming right out of college often lack the practical knowledge that comes from working in the classroom versus what a college professor theorizes. They need a mentor in their school on their grade level to help them get acclimated to the job,  someone who will be their advocate and support system regardless of their age. If they are new to a school system from another state, fresh out of college, or perhaps re-entering the profession after staying home for awhile, all could benefit from some form of a mentor. I remember one year when a new fourth grade teacher was assigned to be mentored by the art teacher. Now there's a good match!

        Some systems take mentoring to the extreme and make new teachers sit through endless boring sessions or tapes on what to do or not to do. While some of that information is useful, overloading them while they are in a state of disequilibrium and trying to get used to the profession can be overwhelming. In addition, mentor teachers are often required to sit through these meetings as well, year after year. For their efforts, they are paid a stipend that might cover a meal at a fast food restaurant once everything has been taken out of the check. This is to compensate them for the hours spent going to mentor/mentee meetings every week for a semester.

          I prefer to serve as a mentor to someone on my grade level or perhaps one grade level above. That way I can share lesson plans, newsletters, classroom management strategies, units, and materials with them.  I have been told that this practical hands on advice is a lot more helpful. Rather than have the new teacher sit through a series of videotapes each week, I feel that he or she would benefit more from practical knowledge and assistance. An example of why follows.

           One year I had a first year teacher I was mentoring come to me in tears. A parent was giving her a really hard time and had demanded a conference. Just like a dog smelling fear, I hate to say it but some parents can sense a newbie's fear and exploit it. I offered to sit in with her during the conference and I am glad I did. 

           The parent came in absolutely furious. She started out with language that would make a sailor blush. After about ten minutes of this, I asked her "What exactly is it you want?" This made her pause for a minute and then she went on with her tirade. I again asked " But what is it you want? If you want to talk about how often your son is getting in trouble, is cursing at us going to get what you want? If you want us to hear you, it would help if you would calm down and discuss this rationally. I understand that you are upset and we want to hear you. But if you continue to use this kind of language, we are going to conclude and wait for you to come back when we can talk like adults." 

           I didn't know if she was going to curse some more or throw something at me, but believe it or not, she calmed down. She talked about her frustrations at her son always getting in trouble. It was obvious that she needed time to get some things off her chest and that her frustrations were a result of her anger with her son as well as some long simmering complaints with the school system in general. She was a single parent struggling to support her family by working two jobs. Together, the teacher and I came up with an action plan to help her at school and at home. We also put her in touch with some needed  outside resources that would help her. By the end of the conference, she hugged the young teacher and thanked her for listening. The rest of the year went much better and ended on a good note for all concerned. New teachers need someone to intervene if necessary with parents, administrators, or other teachers.

Whenever I have mentored a new teacher, here are a few things that I try to impart to them as we work together:

1)  Ignore labels such as limited or slow. Look at each child that enters your classroom with a clean slate; one who is capable of unlimited potential.

2) Believe in your students.  Rather than assuming that a child can't, give him or her the benefit of the doubt and assume that they can.

3)  Create a loving, accepting environment where each child can flourish.

4) Make learning fun.

5) Greet each child when they come in every morning with a hug or a smile. Tell them you are excited to see them.

6) Leave a bad mood outside your classroom door. (Believe it or not, I actually  try to visualize a box right outside my classroom door. I imagine dropping my bad mood in there until school is out.) Young children pick up on it if you don't.

7) To reach a young child's mind, you have to capture his heart. No matter how well you know your subject matter or how carefully you have planned your lessons....the real key to unlocking a child's potential is letting him know you believe in him and will always be there for him. My students call me their "School Mama". I tell them that there is no way I could ever take their Mom's place, but while they are at school, I want to take care of them and make them feel safe.

8) School systems often jump on a new "bandwagon", discarding a recently introduced program that teachers have just finally managed to figure out how to use. Don't be too quick to throw the baby out with the bathwater so to speak. Hang on to strategies and techniques that you know were good for children.

9) Keep a journal of your school year. Write down questions and concerns to discuss with the teacher who is mentoring you. Weekly meetings are a must.

10) Have an open door policy. Parents who are allowed to come in and volunteer get to see first hand what happens in your classroom. That automatically cuts down on a lot of questions and concerns.

If you are new to the profession, what do you need to help you be more successful in the classroom!

34 comments

  1. Ms. Anthropy // May 13, 2010 at 9:23 PM  

    The year we moved into this house, was the first year the elementary school, next door, opened. My oldest son was one of the first students. His kindergarten teacher actually came to our house (prior to the first day of school) to meet him and the family. I thought that was extra special, plus... he didn't have those first day jitters so many new students get. She was never a stranger after that and was open, honest and available at all times. Made it easier on her, as a teacher and us, as parents. It had to have taken a lot of time, on her part, but she got to experience the children, the family and find out a little background about each child's situation. Everyone adored her.

  2. Debbie // May 13, 2010 at 9:30 PM  

    Excellent post. Since Jack has started school every year he has a student coming in ready to graduate and move on to teaching. It has always been a wonderful experience from my point of view. I think these days it is a hard field to get into....for one the jobs are not of plenty anymore, and for two a lot of schools have larger classroom sizes than they used to. SOunds like the conference did end well as you mentioned...you certainly get more with sugar than you do with spice!

  3. Tree // May 13, 2010 at 9:47 PM  

    Such a wonderfully written, well thought-out post! I feel bad for the newbie teacher, but thank goodness you were there to step in and help her. I can understand the mom's frustrations, as I've also had to deal with my twin son's ADHD for many years! We've been very fortunate to have really great teachers for him, although they do get frustrated with him at times. I sure wish my kiddos had you for a teacher though...you have such a wonderful outlook on teaching and such "class." (get it? I know...I'm a cornball. LOL)

  4. Marlene // May 13, 2010 at 10:06 PM  

    You sound like a GREAT mentor. :)

  5. Adrienne // May 13, 2010 at 10:18 PM  

    every new teacher should read this ...I love how your share all of your experiences!

  6. Shell // May 13, 2010 at 10:34 PM  

    I'm sure the new teachers that you have mentored are so thankful to have had you!

    My first year of teaching was 6th grade and we team-taught. My teaching partner was amazing and helped me SO much. No one ever even guessed I was a first year teacher. :)

  7. Cheeseboy // May 14, 2010 at 12:18 AM  

    I am so impressed with the way you handled that conference. Fortunately, I had a mentor that I saw handle a similar conference in a very similar way. I learned so much from watching her.

  8. Bernie // May 14, 2010 at 12:22 AM  

    I hope all newbies read this, you are a wonderful mentor.
    I think he had learned behavior from his aggressive mother, such a shame but then I may be wrong as I don't like it when they always blame the parents......:-) Hugs

  9. Bossy Betty // May 14, 2010 at 12:35 AM  

    Such great advice!!!

  10. The Empress // May 14, 2010 at 12:36 AM  

    You are the kind of teacher we need in every single classroom in America.

    I homeschool for a number of reasons. One is a bad experience with a classroom teacher who would only tell me about "bad"things and my son. Never a positive. Once, after listening to her for 12 minutes on how "bad" my son was, I interrupted her and asked her to tell me one thing, JUST ONE THING, that was good about my son.

    She was silent. She couldn't think of anything. I took him by the hand and pulled him out of school then and there.

    We never went back. How can a child learn knowing his teacher can't find ONE GOOD THING about him???

    So, you, I bow to...I am now doing that hands together in front of me while lowering my head.

  11. Mr. Stupid // May 14, 2010 at 3:57 AM  

    Awesome post. You sure are a good mentor and teachers should learn from you!

  12. Aging Mommy // May 14, 2010 at 9:57 AM  

    We all need and want mentors in life. The shame is all too often they are lacking. Wonderful post.

  13. Theresa Milstein // May 14, 2010 at 10:14 AM  

    How wonderful you help new teachers like that. You're right that parents (and even students) smell new blood and take advantage. Your modeling must help immensely.

  14. ~J // May 14, 2010 at 10:59 AM  

    I LOVE this post Pam!! Mentoring for these new teachers is SO BEYOND needed...especially if their mentor is you!

  15. eager2teach // May 14, 2010 at 1:06 PM  

    I appreciate this post. I graduated last weekend and already have a position for next year in a second grade Transitional Bilingual classroom. My district does have a mentor program. Until reading your post, I never thought about the benefit of having a mentor that is at or very close to your grade level. It just makes sense. I when I find out more about the mentorship program, I will make sure to ask if it would be possible to have a mentor at my grade level and/or a bilingual teacher.

    One of the things that I hope to have in my mentor is someone who is experienced and open to helping me grow as an educator. Sharing advice, lessons, communication strategies, etc. would be incredible!! Thanks for your post!

  16. Choices // May 14, 2010 at 4:18 PM  

    Oh! Wow! I can surely relate to what you wrote. My first year of teaching, I was soo clueless in many ways. I reached out to a veteran teacher, but it was a shame that she was not willing to share. So, I took it upon myself to learn what I needed to know to be a good teacher. I would have loved to have you as my mentor. I know I would have learned so much!

  17. Kristin // May 14, 2010 at 7:12 PM  

    It is nice to have someone that you can go to and just say what should I do!

  18. Kelly // May 14, 2010 at 9:15 PM  

    Thank you so much for your comment :) And thanks for the prayers I appreciate them so much!!
    You sound like a great teacher & mentor. My oldest starts kindergarten in the fall and I hope his teacher is as good as you seem to be from what I've read :)
    Take care hun :)

  19. Brian Miller // May 14, 2010 at 11:00 PM  

    those are some great kernels of wisdom...i enjoy mentoring others and seeing them grow...

  20. Debbie(single;complicated) // May 15, 2010 at 9:05 AM  

    you are so sweet to worry about me. You are never prying..Ex does help as much his part! He has the kids every other weekend and during the week once-if I get overwhelmed or need help he is there...! So it the best it could be for what it is!:)..

  21. Tracie // May 15, 2010 at 1:20 PM  

    It's too bad every first year teacher can't have a mentor like you. I like your tips and I think many of them can also apply to parents.

  22. H // May 15, 2010 at 3:40 PM  

    Mentors are so important. When I was a newbie teacher (many, many years ago), my 'mentor' hardly set foot inside my room. The following year though, I was lucky enough to be part of a great team with two fantastic teachers who taught me soooo much! I will always be grateful to them.

    These days, I try to be a good mentor to other new teachers or students.

  23. blueviolet // May 15, 2010 at 7:46 PM  

    I loved your calm and logical approach to that parent's hysterics!

    I'm afraid parents these days really have the upper hand because of legal threats. It saddens me sometimes.

  24. Big Mama Cass // May 16, 2010 at 1:05 AM  

    Awesome post!! :)

  25. Messy Mommy // May 19, 2010 at 10:21 PM  

    Great post! One of the questions I asked in my interview was if they had a mentoring program. I think that's so important!

  26. Jennifer S. // May 23, 2010 at 7:26 PM  

    I am a pre-service teacher and I think that you have brought up some very good points. I think that all new teachers should have someone like yourself as a mentor when they are first starting to teach. I think that a mentor gives the "new teacher" a reference point, and I think that they can be so much help for classroom activities as well as learning about the school as a community. When I begin in a school I would hope that I could be set up with a mentor who can help me, advise me, and support me because they've been where I am too. I enjoyed reading your post, thanks for sharing.

  27. VKT // May 29, 2010 at 1:13 AM  

    Ms. A,

    I have always found that the more opportunities you provide for parents to come into the classroom, the more they understand what is going on and their stress level goes down!

  28. VKT // May 29, 2010 at 1:14 AM  

    Sugar does seem to work much better than spice Debbie...I agree!

  29. VKT // May 29, 2010 at 1:15 AM  

    You are a hoot lady....I got it! Or did I? kidddddding

  30. VKT // May 29, 2010 at 1:15 AM  

    I do the best I can my friend.

  31. VKT // May 29, 2010 at 1:16 AM  

    It is so nice to have this blog to jot down memories!

  32. VKT // May 29, 2010 at 1:17 AM  

    You are right though Bernie. He probably did.

  33. Mrs.B // June 15, 2010 at 6:50 PM  

    I am in the process of earning my Masters Degree in Elementary Education K-6. As a new teacher, I really appreciate your posts - your tips to new teachers in this post is terrific! I will have completed 3 semesters of observations and 3 months of student teaching before I graduate. Although observations and student teaching are great prep programs, there is nothing that will really prepare a teacher for their first year except hands on experience! I think having a mentor teacher to lean on or go to with questions, advice, ideas, etc would be fantastic!

  34. Casey // August 2, 2010 at 2:09 AM  

    Whoever has you as a mentor is lucky! I was fortunate to have a great mentor my first 2 years of teaching. My first year, i took her advice, behavior plan, lesson plan suggestions, etc... and implemented it. Now, beginning my 4th year, I have changed and adapted most of the "stuff", but the core of what she taught me remains. I moved to a new school district my 3rd year (NC has a 3 year mentor program)and my mentor cared more about making herself look good by bashing me at will. Luckily, I had 2 great years with a good mentor and the new mentor had nothing negative to go to the administration with. I feel for the teachers stuck with her for all 3 years. Thanks for being willing to share your knowledge!