Perfecting one’s craft is the key to having a successful career in any field. Improvement doesn’t come fast or easy though. In fact, it can be quite tricky to gain knowledge and expertise without the help of someone more knowledgeable to teach you the ropes. That’s why having a more experienced mentor in the same field can help individuals grow in their skillset.
In teaching, mentors are provided during student teaching (and referred to as a ‘cooperating teacher’) and then most districts provide them again to new teachers in their first three years in the classroom. These mentors are current teachers who are available to answer questions and provide support to their mentee so that they can go on to have a successful teaching career.
Brand New Teachers
A cooperating teacher [CT] is usually a beginning teacher’s first experience with mentorship as they learn all the ‘how-to’s’ in the classroom. This mentorship opportunity is essential to ensure the future teacher is prepared in knowledge and skill to lead their own classroom upon graduation. A cooperating teacher models best teaching practices through instruction and classroom management so that the student teacher is able to see how their content knowledge plays out in real life scenarios.
If a student teacher is not placed in a district, school building or classroom that is a ‘good fit’, the power of mentorship can diminish. To avoid that pitfall, there are some factors to consider.
Suggestions for an effective cooperating and student teacher pairing are:
- Matches same grade level or subject area of future degree/license
- Skilled classroom teacher mentor
- Placement located near college or university where earning a degree
Check out this Student Teacher Kit I designed to help guide both cooperating teachers and student teachers in their partnership together, including introduction letters, checklists, teaching timelines, feedback and note-taking templates as well as answers to frequently asked questions.
Once teachers begin their journey on their own, mentorship is just as essential to ensure all the progress made during student teaching continues well beyond their first year. Mentorship should build off what was learned during schooling and in the student teaching placements while also layering in new tips and tricks specific to the current grade, school and district.
As mentioned above, if a beginning teacher is not hired in a district, school building or under the tutelage of a mentor of which any of those aren’t a ‘good fit’, the power of mentorship can diminish. To avoid that pitfall, there are some factors to consider as well.
Suggestions for an effective mentor-mentee pairing are:
- Same subject area or grade level
- Skilled classroom teacher mentor
- Requirements for partnership provided by district or school (ie. Dedicated time and space to meet, topics or focus, etc.)
Check out this Mentor Kit I designed to help guide mentors in establishing a strong partnership with their mentee through relationship building activities, monthly meeting topics and tips on effective mentorship.
Mentorship doesn’t have to apply to just new(er) teachers. The term ‘life-long learner’ is often used in education and it most certainly applies to ongoing professional development through mentorship, whether an educator has been teaching one year or twenty. Even if a district does not supply an official mentor or have a formal mentorship program in place for teachers progressing in experience, does not mean a teacher cannot find and informally appoint one for themselves. In fact, that is highly encouraged to ensure teachers remain relevant to students, up-to-date on techniques, and passionate about their craft.
Suggestions for an effective (unassigned, unofficial) mentor-mentee pairing are:
- Willing participant
- Skilled in specific area of weakness
- Priorly agreed upon mode of communication and expectations
Why Mentorship Matters
Mentorship prepares teachers to become their best so that they can pay it forward and help students become their best. Mentorship is an investment in the future you if you are willing to put in the time now. Skipping out on mentorship could cost you more than you realize:
- Without someone to turn to when your job gets tough, you might give up on your life’s passion.
- Without someone to turn to who has walked where you are walking and cheering you on through it, you might never fulfill your potential as an educator.
- Without someone to give you perspective, insight or encouragement, you might never impact students to the magnitude that you were meant to when you first began.
Therefore, every teacher needs a mentor that they can rely on to hold themselves accountable to learn, grow, and make a difference today, tomorrow and always.
What tips would you add for effective mentorship?