The First Year Teaching: Why you need a teacher mentor
By Matthew Lynch
Finding your way as a first-year teacher can feel overwhelming and even isolating at times. There is so much responsibility that lands on you all at once, and even though you’ve trained for it, some days it can be too much to handle. Just remember that you are not the first person to walk the new teacher path, and that the support you need to make it through the year, and the following ones, may be right around you.
Mentor teachers can provide invaluable help to new teachers. Mentors are experienced, patient, knowledgeable veteran teachers who are selected to guide new teachers. These mentors assist new teachers to adapt to the school culture and norms, which include official and non-official ones, and school or district-specific ones. They will also guide the new teachers with curriculum, teaching strategies, successful scheduling and communication skills.
Mentors aren’t always a concrete part of a first-year teacher’s learning experience. In surveys, 67 percent of teachers who had mentors say that the mentorship program was beneficial for their teaching careers. However, only 47 percent of public school teachers have had mentors.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of having a mentor teacher is that they are able to supervise you and provide you with suggestions on improvements that can be made. New teachers can turn to their mentors for support when times are tough and seek their advice. In many programs, mentors are responsible for new teacher assessments and mentors can suggest training for teachers to improve performance. Successful mentorship programs also guide new teachers in choosing professional workshop opportunities.
As for the specifics, mentors can help you with recognizing which files from the principal get the highest priority, which administrator has the most power in evaluation and all the other inside information (i.e. the room where the best projector is located).
Not all schools have in-person mentorship programs, but some do offer “tele-mentor” and “e-mentor” support programs over the Internet. If neither type of official mentor program is present at your first school, you can always look for an unofficial one, or find support from several other teachers in the school. It really is worth your time to seek out this help. Research shows that first-year teachers who have had support of a mentor develop better classroom management skills, stay in the teaching profession longer and maintain their initial enthusiasm longer. There is really no reason to shoulder the burden all on your own when there are people around you who understand exactly what you are going through, and can help you.
True mentors are patient listeners and good guides who provide thoughtful advice based on their years of experience. They understand that new teachers need support in adjusting to the fast and challenging environment from the first day of school, until they gradually find their own styles of teaching and start to enjoy every day, teaching and seeing students learn. Make sure you open yourself up to the helpful guidance of a teacher mentor — it will pay off during your early days as a teacher, and for the many successful years that follow.