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.