noticed that those who had done their student teaching at my school
had an edge when they began teaching here on their own. Their schedules
were just as difficult and their challenges just as daunting, but
they knew how to get supplies, how to take attendance, and how to
complete progress reports and report cards. Most importantly, they
knew who to turn to when a student or class or colleague was getting
them down. They already had mentors in the building.
couple of years ago, I learned that our superintendent expected
that within five years, 58% of our district staff would be made
up of new teachers. A bit selfishly I wondered: Who would carry
forth the school's traditions? What would happen to the programs
we'd all worked so hard to develop? The turnover for new teachers
was already high. Many were leaving after only the first or second
year. I knew that if new teachers did not put down roots in our
system, everyone would suffer.
believed Somerville needed a formal mentoring program, and I wrote
a memo to our union president to say so. As it turned out, she had
been discussing that need with our superintendent, who shortly afterward
assembled a mentor program advisory group made up of teachers and
administrators. We held monthly meetings facilitated by an advisor
from the Northeast and Islands Regional Lab at Brown University.
During the course of a school year, our advisor helped us develop
a time line, form committees, and design a pilot program. One year
later, he and I would co-facilitate our first training of 20 twenty
the outset, the group divvied up responsibilities. A program design
committee decided upon mentor qualifications and wrote a job description,
a communications committee developed a flyer to advertise for mentors,
and a "matching committee" handled the applications and selected
the pilot group. A staff development team designed a two-day training,
and an evaluation committee designed an instrument to be administered
at the end of our pilot year. All of us contributed to the design
and writing of a Teacher Mentoring Handbook.
pilot year focused on four mentor-protege pairs. At our training,
we asked teachers to recall positive and negative first-year experiences.
Comparing their memories with what current literature tells us about
the needs of new teachers, we found plenty of common ground and
learned a lot. New teachers need a confidential, empathetic ear,
a mentor who will take the time to listen and problem-solve without
passing judgment. They need a coach they can trust who is comfortable
acting as their liaison with the greater school community.
learned that for a first-year teacher, it is more important to have
a mentor in the building than it is to have a mentor who teaches
an identical program. We learned the value of having someone who
can fend off the administrator (however well-meaning) or nosy colleague
who asks, "How's the new kid doing?" We learned that the new teacher
is shocked at how different full-time teaching is from student teaching
and has more of a need to learn classroom management skills than
current mentors have reported they would like the opportunity to
work with their proteges on issues of standards-based curriculum
and assessment during year two, when the rookies are no longer in
"survival" mode. Some mentor-protege pairs found it difficult to
establish regular meeting times; we now know that future pairs must
set up a calendar of scheduled meetings in the fall. The advisory
committee also needs to work with building principals about mentor-protege
release time and issues of confidentiality.
the rookies, our advisory group has made it through the pilot year,
and our next goal is to provide a mentor for every new teacher in
the system. More than ever, we understand that mentoring is about
more than just the needs of new staff. It's also about the legacy
of a generation of teachers--veteran staff who want to retire from
schools where students thrive because well-trained, committed teachers
have put down roots and made those schools their homes.