Mentors can make all the difference for a first-year teacher. Mentors provide you with support, guidance, and advice to help your teaching career get off to a good start. They can also be helpful to second or third year teachers, or experienced teachers looking to take on a bigger leadership role.
How a mentor can help:
- Answer your questions
- Observe your teaching and provide feedback
- Let you observe their teaching
- Be available for conversations when you are not sure how to proceed with a student, a family, or even a co-worker
So, how do you find a mentor?
The best place to start your search is your school. Many schools have teaching teams, where all the teachers who work with the same grade level or subject area plan or even teach together. Ideally, you can work closely with another teacher who teaches the same grade and she or he can help show you the ropes throughout the year. Sometimes schools will set up more formalized mentorships where new teachers are matched with experienced teachers. Sometimes experienced teachers will actually seek out new teachers.
Often, though, you have to seek out mentorships on your own. If you haven’t begun to work with someone organically, try approaching an educator you admire and asking if they would be willing to grab coffee and chat about their teaching philosophy. This will allow you to see if there’s a mutual fit before bringing up the topic of mentorship.
If no one fits the bill at your school, think about organizations you are a part of or have worked with in the past. For instance, you could work with someone at the school where you student-taught. You could work more closely with your certification program’s coach. If you are still not finding anyone, you could you join an organization (for instance, National Association for the Education of Young Children for Early Childhood Educators or Council for Exceptional Children for Special Educators) to seek out mentorship there. The work to find a mentor is worth it, and most experienced educators are happy to help.
Questions to ask yourself about a potential mentor:
- Is this teacher the type of teacher I want to be?
Everyone has their own teaching style and philosophy, but it can be helpful to have a mentor who has a similar approach to you. If you aren’t sure yet what your teaching philosophy is, spend some time journaling about why you want to teach, what you think is important to teach, and how you want your classroom to feel to students.
- Is this teacher experienced?
Learning from someone who has more experience than you is the main benefit of a mentor. You want to find someone who knows the ropes and is passionate about education.
- Listen to your “inner voice.”
Sometimes, a mentor just isn’t a good fit and you’ll get advice from them that you don’t agree with. I was once told during my first year teaching that I needed to, “Yell more.” Not good advice! It is okay to trust yourself, too.