Tips For Being a Better Mentor

The mentor-mentee relationship is, in my opinion, the most important interaction to development of any skill or trade. Teaching is no different. Whether we’re official mentors in a state mandated training program, or a new teacher looks up to us and what we do, every teacher has an opportunity to play an important role in another teacher’s development, sometimes without even knowing it. Here are some tips for being a good mentor and a good role model for a new teacher. 

1. Let Your Passion Show

This is probably the reason that you are a mentor in the first place, your passion. As people look up to you and become vulnerable, it’s important to let this shine through as much as possible. We all show passion in different ways. Mine manifests itself through my student interactions in the classroom. I passionately make jokes, involve every student in conversation, and make examples of great student work. This is old fashioned for a reason – it works. 

2. Give Constructive Criticism

This is hard with colleagues, but understand that constructive criticism does not mean unconditionally positive compliments. People need to hear both the negatives and the positives of what they do so that they can change one and continue doing the other. Learning to approach a colleague who you’re working with to say, “Hey, I noticed you were feeling a little bored while teaching this lesson, here’s what I do to spice it up,” is an important skill. We’re not perfect and we need to hear both sides of the story. As role models, it’s our responsibility to give both sides. 

3. Hold Yourself Accountable

This goes along with #2, but to give advice and have it be heard, you must hold youself accountable to the same standard the advice is based on. Using the example above, if you offer some help with engagement for a new teacher and this teacher passes your class only to see you not following your own advice, all your credibility goes out the window. Even if this happens just once, it can have a lasting effect on this type of relationship, so it’s important to only give advice that you follow or have a reason for not following.   

4.  Understand Your Mentee’s Problems

Without formally evaluating them, it’s vital to completely understand your mentee’s shortcomings in order to help them work towards their goals. Ask pointed questions, make careful observation, and try to pose conclusions to your mentee to see what they feel about their needs. Understanding and communication are key in any relationship, and this one is no different.

5. One Problem At A Time

Teachers come into the classroom and some have a long way to go, while others do not.  It’s easy to be overwhelmed at work, so focusing on one problem at a time is critical. Identify your mentee’s greatest need and focus only there. Don’t comment on any other issue they may be having until they work to fix the most important one. Often, by going through the process of fixing one issue, fixing another becomes easy. Most evaluation systems have convenient rubrics for helping this process along and I happen to love the one in place at our district, with 16 different categories pertaining to different parts of teaching.  

Top Five “First Week” TED Talks Under 6 Minutes

TED Talks are great. They’re short, sweet, thought provoking, and often told by people with inspiring stories. They’re great classroom resources for adding what I call “classroom magic”. It’s that part of teaching that can’t be measured, but must be felt. It’s the switching on of lightbulbs, the synchronized firing of brain synapsing, and the fascination that is inherent to childhood. I’ve put together five of my favorite “First Week” talks, or clips you could show during the first week of school to model class discussion, to break the ice, or perhaps the content is relevant to your course and could be useful curriculum material. Please enjoy and share similar talks that you like.  

Malcom London – “High School Training Ground” 

This spoken word poem is a gritty, chilling, and lyrical take on the Chicago Public School system. Ask your students how their school situation relates to the one described here. 

Marco Tempest – “A Cyber Magic Trick”

Marco Tempest is a cybermagician. I had no clue what that was before I watched this video. I suggest you watch it too, because it’s pretty wild.

Don Levy – “A Journey Through Visual Effects”

Most children love movies, but rarely think about the work that goes into bringing them to life. Don Levy’s journey begins at 2:30, but is a fascinating trip through the history of special effects in cinema. Challenge your students to think about what’s next for virutal reality and movie effects. 

Jon Bergmann – “How Small is an Atom?” 

This animation gives numerous and humorous visualization that highlight the tiny size of the atom. This is a great first day of chemistry class video.

Marco Tempest – “A Magical Tale” 

Marco Tempest’s magic is so fascinating that he earns another spot on this list. In this video, he delivers “Magic 101” with some unbelievable augmented reality.  What’s so relevant about his performances is that he captivates his audiences through the same medium that teachers captivate students: curiosity, posing questions, and telling engrossing stories. 

 

Rock Star Teachers – Why Not?

EdTech Magazine recently posted this article regarding the income and status of one particular educator in South Korea. This is not news, because it’s been happening in countries all over southeastern Asia. This particular educator’s salary is staggering, sure, but India, China, Japan, and others have all seen similar events. While it’s obviously ridiculous to draw correlations between these types of educators and their students’ demographically excellent exam scores, this article brings up an issue that I believe is central to improving our schools.

What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up? 

Every child is asked this question and there are many answers. Few answers are scrutinized as much as “a teacher”. The stigma of “those who can’t do, teach” is still prevalent in society and to be honest, it has some weight to it. A good chunk of teachers do it as a second career, with little passion, and little desire to improve. Statements such as “well, you can always teach English” are degrading to our profession, but are often thrown around at household dinner tables. Look at enrollment in colleges teaching programs compared to med schools, financial certifications, and law-related fields at our nation’s top schools. Why is it that society is consistently pushing students into fields other than teaching? We need our best and brightest to be educating future generations, but our best and brightest are doing other things instead. Why? 

The answer has always been an easy one; fame and money. It’s human nature to desire these things. Money drives the entire capitalist system. Fame is an inherent social motivator for people of all ages, middle school through senior living. Teachers have no real chance of ever being famous outside of their building, and a salary ceiling that simply doesn’t exist in other jobs. Lower income areas can’t get excellent teachers to stay because of money, among other issues.

This article presents an interesting solution to that problem. In South Korea, teachers who branch out on their own endeavors outside of school can be rewarded financially. That’s due to the culture of academic competition there, but the act is no less valuable in America. I look at the value added of teachers with side occupations. Many of Twitter’s most followed educators are teachers. Teachers are more frequently turning to blogs to share their educational creativity. One administrator in my school owns and operates an Aikido dojo after school. We have well known conference speakers that appear at myriad gatherings of the many teaching organizations. By branching out, these teachers have provided tremendous value to the world outside of their classrooms.  

The root problem all comes down to fame and money, however. Despite their accomplishments, the general public wouldn’t recognize any of these people. These people are happy and successful but are not living in a mansion or driving luxury cars. These factors, whether we like to admit it or not, drive the world forward and for teachers they just don’t exist.  

Fame 

Why don’t we have our own “rock star teachers”? Does the public not care? Have we not had teachers boasting such immense success that warrant fame and fortune? We have a national teacher of the year in our district. I know his name and his face but would never recognize him on the street. Paragons of success in business are studied, idolized, and have TV shows made about them. Musicians preach to sold out stadiums, theaters, and ballrooms. Comedians show up on comedy central and clubs across the country. Why aren’t any of these people teachers?  

Fortune 

School systems obviously can’t pay fortunes to teachers, with or without merit pay, but why can’t teachers go and make them? Warren Buffett is a world famous billionaire, but why aren’t there any teachers revered for their investment prowess? Bill Gates is one of the most respected – and rich – innovators in the world. Why aren’t the ranks of inventors and billionaires littered with teachers?     

Why Not? 

This article is not a proposal, but a thought experiment. Think about this simple question: what would happen to our education system if, all of a sudden, teachers had the opportunity to make $250,000 or more per year. Remember that the money wouldn’t come just from salary – it would be the expectation that teachers take on an additional “job” outside of their teaching job, similar to what this South Korean educator did. What would that mean for our schools? Our students? Our society? My prediction is that it would spin our country on its head. Feel free to discuss in the comments section, or on our Twitter/Facebook. 

  

 

 

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