No matter how long you have been working in education, you have undoubtedly discovered that teaching can be a highly individualized experience. No two teachers, their styles, or their approaches to learning are the same—nor should they be. However, every teacher should consider having a mentor; someone to learn from, to be inspired by, and to turn to when challenging moments require the wisdom of another educator who has successfully navigated a similar challenge. Especially if you are a new teacher, seek out a mentor, whether it is another teacher in your district or a family friend who inspired you to consider a career in education, and let that person help you to shape and define what will eventually become your unique style of teaching.
Why All Teachers Need a Mentor
Teachers of all experience levels benefit from working with a mentor for these three critical reasons:
- Mentors Have Experienced it All—And Are Full of Wisdom to Share. A mentor is an experienced educator who can advise you through the challenges you will undoubtedly face. Knowing that we are not alone during our most difficult moments, whether it be dealing with an angry parent, a difficult student, or facing a department reorganization, a mentor can put these epic life moments in perspective and help you remain focused on what you need to do to navigate the challenges you face successfully. By following their guidance, you can come through any trial a stronger, more confident teacher—just as they did.
- A Mentor Will Challenge You to be the Best. Ask any teacher facing retirement if they approached challenges the same way in their thirtieth year of teaching as they did in their first year, and they will likely smile, or chuckle, and tell you, “Of course not.” With experience comes wisdom, but early in our careers, we lack the inherent knowledge of how to navigate common challenges, only because we have not faced them before. A mentor is someone who you can approach with your ideas for how to navigate various situations, and after listening, may challenge what you think you should do, and help you plan an approach that is proven successful, based on their own experiences in similar situations.
- Your Mentor Will Strengthen Your Spirit. Every teacher will have good days when they feel they have made a breakthrough with a student, and harder days when they face challenges. In these moments, a mentor will strengthen your resolve, help you keep your day in perspective, and give you a safe space to complain, or even cry, before picking you back up, dusting you off, and giving you the confidence to carry on again.
How to Choose Your Mentor
When you are first hired, your school district may assign you a “mentor,” a seasoned educator who is meant to serve as your dedicated resource for questions and to provide feedback on your performance. This individual may go on to serve as your career-long inspiration, but you may also find that you need to seek out a mentor on your own, someone whose personality, approach, or beliefs align with your own more innately. When choosing a mentor, consider these essential qualities as identified by Education Week. An effective mentor:
- Respects your goals and pushes you to solve problems using a different perspective.
- Listens unselfishly, but knows when to encourage you to be the listener instead.
- Collaborates, believing that you both benefit from shared learning.
- Serves as a safe, trusted resource when you need to vent.
- Shares best practices without insisting that the only way to achieve success is his or her way.
- Celebrates your successes.
Pay It Forward: Be Prepared to Mentor in Return
Before you know it, you may be asked for advice by a new teacher looking to find his or her unique voice, style, and teaching best practices. When your knowledge and experiences are considered valuable to someone else, give them the same care, respect, and consideration your mentor gave to you. In this way, best practices and education successes will continue to pass from generation to generation—which benefits both teachers and students.