8 April 2010 11:16 AM

Teacher Mentors

by Dr. Rick

Last month, more than 43,000 teachers in Maryland, the state where I live, responded to a survey about their profession, their classrooms, their daily work, their schools, and their resources.


Maryland has a good reputation for its education of children.  The state has been Education Week’s  top-ranked state in the nation two years in a row.  But there’s always work to be done in education, so kudos to Maryland for listening to its teachers.


The survey showed that Maryland’s teachers are fairly content, positive about their work and their futures.  Seventy-three percent agree that their schools are good places to work.  Ninety-one percent intend to stay in the profession.  If there’s anything they’d like to see improved, teachers say, it’s a stronger voice in the decisions of their schools and districts, and an increase in teacher mentoring.




The memories came flooding back.  Where would I be without my early mentors in education?  I think of the special people who coached me, nurtured me, challenged me, supported me, stretched me, and cheered me during the inevitable dark days.


I think of what they shared with me – practical tips for nudging along “unenthusiastic learners,” for streamlining endless “administrivia,” for disarming nervous or irate parents, for budgeting my time, for maintaining a healthy balance of the personal and the professional, for steering me towards the right graduate degrees, for seeing the bright spots every day, for keeping a sense of humor, and for recognizing that I can make a difference in families’ lives.


Most of all I appreciate their being role models for me, giants for me to emulate, achievements for me to aspire to.  They’re gone now, mostly, but they live on in me and in the teachers I work with now.  Teachers, as they say, affect eternity.


Young teachers have a tougher time of it today than I did forty years ago.  There simply are fewer old-timers around now.  Many new teachers are thrown in with the school’s most challenging classes and with little support.  (Shame on their principals.)  That’s a recipe for disaster.  No surprise that so many teachers leave the profession after only a few years.  No chance to build up a lineage, a tradition, a heritage.


There are lots of good mentoring programs in schools, but the best kind of mentor/protégé relationship is the kind that develops naturally.  If you’re a veteran teacher, here are some things you can do to help the new teachers in your school.

  1. Remember.  Think of what your early days were like.  Remember the struggles, and take someone under your experienced wing and teach him the tricks of the trade.  Ensure your presence and influence after you’re gone.

  2. Share.  You have much knowledge.  Tell new faculty about your experiences.  Show what works for you – classroom management, time management, paper-grading routines, lesson planning, and other survival skills that they can adapt to their own personalities.  Tell them where the printers are, who the most helpful custodians are, the bitter ones to avoid in the faculty room.

  3. Lend an ear.  New teachers need to let off steam.  Remember?  Listen to their experiences with interest.  You don’t have to have answers to everything – in fact, it’s best that you don’t.  They’ll learn.  But it’s good to know someone is interested and listens.

  4. Lend a hand.  Help the newbies in the building orient themselves.  It’s a confusing, hectic place, with so much to master in a short time.  Be available.

  5. Be positive.  Be realistic, of course, but also be quick to show that over a career – certainly not every day – teaching is fulfilling, challenging, future-oriented, and sometimes even noble.




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