In the Classroom Professional Learning
The Power of a Mentor
March 24, 2018
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Dr. Beth Gotcher
@beth_gotcher

Being a new teacher is an exciting and invigorating time yet can also be filled with stress and uncertainty. Beginning teachers enter their first classroom bubbling with hopes and ideas for their students. However, new teachers are also filled with a variety of unanswered questions. How do I make copies? What do I do if I’m sick? What instructional resources am I required to use? Where do I go for a fire drill? These are just a few of the countless questions that come up throughout a teacher’s first year which are not answered in a college classroom.

At times, new teachers may be hesitant to ask questions for fear of “bothering” a fellow teacher or fear of looking “unprepared” for their new job. These are the perfect type of questions, however, for a mentor to provide clarity and guidance. The specifics of a mentoring program can vary from district to district or even school to school. But the main purpose is typically to provide support for new teachers on a variety of topics from clerical questions to classroom management to instructional support. When utilized effectively mentoring programs can help provide a strong foundation for new teachers. In order to be effective there are some characteristics that are beneficial for administrators to consider.

  • Mentors and new teachers need to be in the same grade level at the elementary level or the same content area at the middle or high school level. Conversations regarding instructional strategies and lesson planning are challenging if both teachers do not share the same grade or subject level of their students.
  • There needs to be some form of accountability on the part of both the mentor and new teacher. Simply assigning a new teacher a mentor does not guarantee a productive relationship. That does not mean mentoring requires a scripted program but some guidelines to follow would be beneficial. For example, a list of topics to cover over the course of the year could be provided such as clerical questions, management strategies, curriculum mapping, or state assessments. This would allow for some direction for discussion.
  • While mentoring is the most crucial during the first year of teaching, continuing the program into the second and even third year in some cases can be beneficial. For many teachers the first year is about survival where you are constantly learning and preparing. The second year involves fewer clerical questions but the focus shifts to strengthening instructional practices and making adjustments based upon the first year. Having a mentor to help hone instructional practices and make improvements can make new teachers stronger.
  • An effective mentoring program could benefit both veteran and new teachers. Serving as a mentor allows veteran teachers to examine their own classroom practices and maybe even revive some of their excitement that could have diminished over the years in some cases.

Hopefully the desire of all administrators is for teachers to frequently collaborate with one another in order to improve student learning. New teachers need to observe and be a part of collaboration right from the beginning. Teachers often carry with them habits established in the beginning of their career. The goal is for teachers not to remain in silos but be active and contributing members of their school community. This collaborative philosophy begins by being established in the beginning years of teaching and can be enhanced through an effective mentoring program.

Beth has taught in Maryville City Schools for 10 years. She began her teaching career in 2nd grade for two years and then moved to 4th grade for four years. For the past four years, she has taught Kindergarten. Beth earned her Bachelor of Arts from Maryville College in Child Development and Learning. She furthered her education and earned a Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Lincoln Memorial University as well as an Educational Specialist’s degree in Educational Administration and Supervision also from Lincoln Memorial University. In 2017, Elizabeth completed her Ph.D. with a concentration in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies from The University of Tennessee, Knoxville. The title of her dissertation was The Role of Administrators in Facilitating Change and Establishing a Positive Culture in a New School. She also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging her colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.

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