Over the last six weeks I've had the pleasure of mentoring a teaching candidate from one of our state universities. It has been an up and down battle for me as I'm learning to let go of my control and put my classroom in the hands of another teacher. As we've moved from co-teaching to him having full control, I've gotten really good at reflecting out loud and really analyzing every move I/we make as teachers.
What I've tried to model and really engrain in my practice is the need for forming positive, professional relationships with students, the use of exploratory and collaborative activities and projects for learning, using probing questions to answer questions, and, lastly, the importance of failure.
The latter is the hardest for us as humans, but I believe one of the most important. I take you back to the first day my teaching candidate arrived. It was a beautiful day outside, which means it was scorching in my classroom. Seriously, a sauna...I'm not kidding! My students were doing presentations, which was out of their everyday routine of working independently/collaboratively at their own pace. They were active, missing their ears, and had channeled the behavior of hormonal teenagers on substitute days. I was at a loss. Every teaching trick I had in my arsenal had failed. I was feeling defeated and really second guessing why I had a teacher candidate observing me, that lady who clearly had no control over her classroom. But here's the thing. It was a great starting point for communicating with him about the classroom and trouble-shooting issues regarding learning and behavior in the classroom. It forced me to debrief, think about the triggers behind the behavior, and narrow in on a plan of action to address the issues. So how did I know how to do this?
When I applied for my current position one of the questions I asked in my interview was, "do you have a mentoring program?" Luckily administration was eager to pair me up with a teacher around my own age who had been at the school a few years. She was great at reflecting, helping me troubleshoot, and really honing in on the importance of forming positive relationships with students. She helped me move past my failures and use them to reflect on future practices. It was her mentoring that helped me feel more comfortable in my educator skin.
So with the above in mind, when my teaching candidate leaves my classroom in two weeks, what advice will I give him?
- Failure is okay.
- Exploratory learning is key.
- Always answer questions with questions.
- Ask for a mentor!
It is my belief that if we want to keep new teachers in this profession they must be paired with strong, reflective, supportive mentors, who are willing to share and debrief about their practice. Whether this happens through subject/grade level meetings or on an individual basis, I don't feel it matters. As long as a line of communication is formed and talking is happening. All teachers, especially new ones, need to feel like someone cares. Failure is inevitable and someone should be there to help them pick up the pieces.
Be a mentor today, change many lives tomorrow!