The Crucial Role of Mentoring in Training and Empowering New Teachers

In this article, we explore the role of mentorship in education, and explain how it can help teachers acclimate quicker while also achieving better outcomes for their students.

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You’d think that by the time you hit the age of twenty-four, and have been involved in some way or another in the school system for twenty years of your life, you’d pretty much have it down to a science. This is particularly true for newly graduated teachers.

They’ve completed all of their coursework. They’ve even put in a semester as a student teacher. So why would they need to consult with a mentor during their first years on the job?

It’s an intriguing question, with several answers. Below, we explore the role of mentorship in education, and explain how it can help teachers acclimate quicker while also achieving better outcomes for their students.

The Situation

Before we get into the semantics of what mentorship looks like for new teachers and why it is important, let’s take a look at the stakes. Currently, almost half of all new teachers leave the profession entirely after just five years on the job.

People talk all the time about the nursing shortage. While the assumption is that it happened because of COVID-19, the reality is actually very similar to what is happening in education right now. Too many nurses were leaving. Not enough new ones were coming in.

If that dichotomy goes on for long enough, you get a crisis.

Understaffed schools are obviously a disaster. Mentorships can’t completely reverse that situation, but they can help improve things by giving new teachers a much-needed boost.

Below we take a look at how that is already playing out in schools all over the country.

1. Mentors Help Teachers Learn the Layout of the Land

Even though new teachers are usually fresh out of school and about as well acclimated with pedagogy as they ever will be, they still don’t know what it is like to work at the specific school they have signed a contract with.

Every district is unique. For example, let’s say you are a special education teacher. You did your student teaching at a school that uses SPED for push-ins. Basically, you went into classrooms and worked directly with the special needs children during their regular classes.

However, the position that you’ve been hired for requires you to teach in a self-contained room, working with students who stay in SPED from the first bell all the way to dismissal.

It’s a big difference. One you may not be able to navigate on your own.

The differences don’t have to be dramatic. It could just be a question of adjusting to a new curriculum or acclimating to the responsibilities of being a point of contact for families.

It could be anything. Education comes with a big learning curve. Mentors can help new hires manage that curve gracefully.

2. Mentors Know the Kids

It’s also just true that every school has its own culture. Once you’ve been at a place for a few years, you will develop a good knowledge of the student body— even kids that you don’t teach personally. You’ll know the parents, the personalities. You’ll understand what situations the kids respond best to.

Unfortunately, that knowledge is usually only won with experience. While no set of circumstances will allow a new hire to become totally fluent in their school district right away, mentors can help things along.

3. Mentors Can Help With Skill Gaps

At the K-8th level, teachers in most parts of the country are often expected to teach every class. That can vary from school to school, but in many cases, teachers will have to cover maths, reading, science, history, etc.

Even teachers aren’t masters of every trade. Sometimes they need a little bit of help teaching a class that is outside their comfort zone. Mentors can connect them with valuable reference materials and advice to bridge that skill gap.

4. Teaching Is Really Hard

Finally, it’s important to acknowledge that teaching is a really hard job. Most teachers work well outside of school hours (which also means they are working beyond the hours they get paid for) to try and figure out how to reach their students.

They work with very few resources, all with the goal of shaping the next generation.

It’s a job that comes with a lot of pressure, and almost no thanks at all. New teachers are often shocked by just how hard the job really is. Having a friend who gets it can make a big difference. No, a shoulder to cry on (hopefully not literally, but hey. Some days are hard) won’t fix all of a new teacher's problems. But it might give them enough gas in their tank to stick around.

It Goes Both Ways

Mentors also benefit from mentorship programmes. They receive recognition for their hard work. They gain the opportunity to get to know a new co-worker. And they even have the chance to learn something new.

Education is always changing—particularly now as digital technology is gaining a significant foothold in classrooms all across the country. Fifteen-year veterans may know a lot more about classroom management than rookies, but they may know less about taking data with digital technology.

Educators are always learning, just like their students.

Of course, mentorship programmes are only effective when everyone involved follows through with them. That can be easier said than done when you consider how many responsibilities teachers have already. School districts can solve this problem by building mentorship programmes into the schedule.

Many schools will require new hires— even those transferring from a different school— to meet regularly with a more experienced teacher. While compulsory mentorship programmes do require compensation for both parties who are giving up their time, they are typically the most effective way to ensure participation. Ultimately it is a worthwhile investment, both for the teachers involved, and the students that they teach.

This article was guest written by Andrew Deen.

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