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The Importance of Mentors

[Editor's note: Kansan in the Bronx is a second-year teacher in a Bronx middle school.]

Something that got me through the first year was the ability to rely on veteran teachers to advise me on how to fix the problems I was experiencing. During the two weeks leading up to school I was still suffering from the syndrome that struck a lot of us at the School of Ed: a confusion between enthusiasm/knowledge of new education theories and experience in the field. I was also stricken with a bit of the assumption that being fresh out of college gave us unlimited advantages over our more senior colleagues.

After the shenanigans of the first day of school last year and a second day that wasn’t much better (including textbooks being thrown across the classroom), I trashed my carefully planned first unit and went on hands and knees to my mentor. I asked her to give me a lesson — any lesson that could possibly work in front of the students. I admitted for the first time perhaps in my entire life that I had absolutely no idea what to do to solve a problem. “Eating humble pie” seemed like an understatement.

She told me to stand up and walked me step by step through a very basic lesson plan with which the students would be familiar and that they might actually attempt to complete. It was in that first week that nearly all the arrogance was washed out of me (not all of it, but close). I was so tired and defeated that there was no way that I could think that I was a hotshot of any sort, especially as a teacher.

Things got better in large part because I started asking questions. I asked a lot of questions. In addition to the mentor that the school assigned me (one of the best teachers I’ve ever met and one of our most senior staff members at the ripe old age of 38), I took on two other mentors: the woman who taught my course the previous year and the assistant principal who actually went through my School of Ed back in Kansas five year before I did and who had my job a couple years prior. This team of mentors propped me up throughout the year, gave me feedback, lesson plans and unit plans, and saw to it that I survived. Without them it’s quite likely I wouldn’t have made it.

My advice to newbies is to find a mentor or two who you respect and trust at school. If the mentor the school assigns you is not helpful, which has been the experience of a lot of my friends, do what you have to for them and find another one to actually talk to, bounce ideas off of, and from whom you can get the support you’ll need. Make a habit out of talking to them and running ideas by them. They should be able to give you ideas on management and planning that you probably won’t think of otherwise.

The teachers that are willing to give you help are those who understand best what makes a strong school community. By giving new teachers advice, the veterans keep more first-years on board, which means there are fewer new teachers and more experienced teachers in the school at the beginning of every year. As much as fresh ideas and enthusiasm are important to a school environment, good people with experience in the field are necessary to successfully support the students and build a community within a school.

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1 Comment:

  • 1 bree
    · Oct 8, 2009 at 11:24 am

    You are so right. The company that you keep in school is essential to success. At a time when you are most vulnerable, finding someone that you can trust is key. You articulate this feeling incredibly well… thanks for this post!