As a new teacher, you may enter the field fully certified and prepared for your job, but no amount of classroom or even clinical experience fully prepares you for your first real teaching assignment. The first year in the classroom is a unique extension of your teacher preparation program, and you will need support as you develop your time management and instructional skills. Navigating data analysis, setting goals, learning both individually and collaboratively, implementing new learning experiences, and monitoring and adjusting best practices can be overwhelming. You must be fully embraced and supported in order to become part of your first professional learning team (Hirsh & Crow, 2017). An efficient and effective mentoring partnership provides this support as you transition from student teacher to fully certified and in charge of your own classroom (Irby et al., 2017).
A good mentor can be your coach, guide, and friend. It is important that your mentor is carefully chosen and is a top-tier teacher with high professional standards. A teacher who is qualified to mentor new teachers has a comprehensive understanding of policy, procedure, and adult learning and is passionate about new teacher retention. Not every new teacher is in the early-20s age group. A good mentor wants you to succeed and is able to meet your need for support while also keeping in mind your life experiences. The mentor also should have time and effort to devote to your development and retention. If you are the only one in your position at your school, you may sometimes feel like you’re drowning, so you’ll particularly benefit from a strong mentor (Irby et al., 2017).
You and your mentor will need to get to know each other personally as well as professionally. Developing a friendly relationship increases the likelihood of your success. Coaching also can occur within your relationship with your mentor since a strong partnership opens the door for professional development on the job and the understanding and application of reform-based teaching practices (Irby et al., 2017). This is essential as you transition from being a novice educator to an effective teacher and professional learning team member (Hirsh & Crow, 2017).
I often think of how important my very first mentor has been to me. She was a seasoned first-grade teacher at the first school I served, assigned the task of showing me the ropes. I recall our first meeting, when she guided me through general housekeeping—where things were, who to go to for what, and how to use the laminator, copier, and, yes, the Ditto machine (Partain, 2019).
She also gave me a 1-gallon jug of “spirit fluid” and told me to protect it with all I was worth. Then she handed me a funnel and said, “Here are your Jug ’n Funnel. Sometimes you will feel like you’re circling the drain like the liquid does in this funnel. Other times you will feel like you put more in than you take out. Regardless, use the funnel, and you’ll always get something back. There’s always light at the end of the funnel.”
Her words had two meanings. She did, in fact, mean for me to put in my fluid to make Ditto copies, then use the funnel to put the fluid back in my jug to make it last longer. The next person would do the same with their Jug ’n Funnel! However, the meaning she wanted me to carry was much deeper.
One of my fondest memories of my mentor is from one night when I was finally finishing up and ready to leave at nearly six o’clock. As I passed her room, there she sat, preparing the best for her students. I said, “Well, I’m going to the Ditto machine before I head home. Do you have anything you want me to run off?” She looked at me over the top of her glasses and replied, “My husband.” Through wisdom, kindness, and laughter, she was the best mentor I could have hoped for. Find your mentor. If your school doesn’t have a program set up for mentoring, advocate for one. A good mentor in your first year can make all the difference in the world!
By Suellen W. Epps
Dr. Epps is the Assistant Principal at Mt. Carmel Elementary School in Huntsville, Alabama. She is a special education administrator who is passionate about new teacher support and retention.
Irby, B., Lynch, J., Boswell, J., & Hewitt, K. K. (2017). Mentoring as professional development. Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 25(1), 1–4.
Hirsch, S., & Crow, T. (2017). Details, details: Making meaning from data. Tools for Learning Schools, 20(3), 1–4, 9–11.
Partain, D. (2019). Remember this: Mimeographs and Ditto machines
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