Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Mentoring Should Be a Two Way Street

In The Witching Hour from Cruel Shoes by eplybon, she states,

“It is the responsibility of veteran educators to support them [new teachers] through this time, which will last until around April (after all the standardized tests have been administered), when they will begin to feel a new energy and hope for a future in teaching. We must first of all let them know that these feelings they are having are normal and that all new teachers face them. We must then support them through the rest of the disillusionment phase by encouraging them, offering them advice when they ask for it, giving them lesson plans and ideas, and inviting them to observe our classrooms.”

I agree that it is very important to encourage and support new teachers so they don’t give up. I also think these feelings are normal for all teachers regardless of the years of experience they may have. They need to know that these are just phases that we all go through in the cycle of teaching and we learn how to cope during these times. Sharing coping skills are important and may help them in many ways.

But I have also found out from my students that they also gain a lot from giving too. Many of my students were always on the receiving end at holidays because their families didn’t have the income to give them presents. This was great for my students and I know getting presents made them feel happy. Yet when I began to help them be on the giving side, it really seemed to make a difference in their lives. By giving, they seemed to hold their heads up high. They even told me that sometimes it embarrassed them to always be on the receiving side because it seemed like they were worthless. By helping them find ways to help others, they suddenly were filled with a sense of worth.

I think the same goes for new teachers. Yes, I think we should be there to give them moral support and encourage them when they are down but I also think we need to let them know that their fresh ideas and outlook can also help the veteran teachers. They are looking at the teaching profession from a fresh perspective and sometimes veteran teachers can get in a rut. By trying some of the new ideas that new teachers have, it would help veteran teachers to stretch themselves and explore the possibilities.

Too many times I have seen veteran teachers who think they have all the answers. They have the best advice. No matter what the new teacher faces, these teachers have an answer to the problem. But sometimes veteran teachers need to step back and listen. Rather than to do the talking, maybe it is time to do the listening. This would be a good time to share difficulties in my own classroom and see if the new teacher has any suggestions. By recognizing that the new teacher might have some great input to help me, may actually help her feel better about her own teaching. Maybe new teachers have great ideas but because they have little experience, their lessons do not go over as well as they could. Now, if you add the veteran teacher’s experience to the pot, maybe this lesson would go over better than expected. What a great opportunity for collaboration!

I see my role as a veteran teacher a little differently than some people. I don’t want to build a wall up to prop up a new teacher. I want to work with the new teacher to create a building together. Both of us could mentor each other and when times get rough, experience might not matter as much as inspiration and motivation. By building together, we could bounce ideas off of each other and discuss possibilities.

I think when these new teachers see that someone is willing to listen to their ideas and help iron out the wrinkles, it will give them new hope. By collaborating with a new teacher, I am showing that I believe in them and that I’m willing to step outside my own box and take risks. I am also showing them that taking risks is worth doing if it benefits our students. When we allow mentoring to become a two way street, I think it helps us be more successful in the classroom! What do you think?

Original image: '2b needed' by: Gisela Giardino


Unknown said...

Hi Pat, great post and very true. I hope that when Luz and Sabrina read this post they will feel more motivated to also teach to me and motivate me.

I am their mentor, although they can both "fly" by their own means.

They are both young, motivated teachers from Argentina and love your posts.

luckeyfrog said...

Mentoring is great when it goes both ways. My mentor teacher is essentially a co-teacher this year, as we share a classroom. Sometimes I wish I had another mentor outside the situation, but in general it's great because we both know the kids and see what is happening.

I do always wish for more feedback- positive compliments, even over little things, are so reassuring to a new teacher. Also, just like with parents- positive comments make negative ones easier to hear later.

My mentor teacher is great about taking suggestions and letting me try them or trying them herself. She's very open to trying new things, maybe in part because she has only been teaching a few years herself. She makes me feel like I have good ideas and we both bring different things to the classroom. That may give her ideas, but it also makes me feel useful and competent.

I think it's also important to realize, though, that this kind of listening for new and fresh ideas shouldn't just occur with new teachers. I think it's important that new teachers aren't just looked at as having a fresh perspective because they are young. Most new teachers I know have plenty of solid teaching ideas (irregardless of age), and many also have considerable experience working with children or teaching in a non-school setting that can come into play.

Lorena said...

Really a great post, I'll share it with other teachers and with a group that is studying to be a teacher.

Anonymous said...

Dear Pat,
I loved your post too. I think it is great learning together. It takes a great person and a great teacher to acknowledge that even though they are more experienced they can also learn from the newbies. I love collaborative work and teaching-learning. I have learnt a lot from Eduardo and with his help I have been able to develop many of my own projects. He has even made me realised that I also have things to teach him. Thanks a lot to both of you then, him for having been such a good teacher and you for having made us reflect upon this.