Working with new teachers can be very exciting, particularly if you find yourself mentoring an enthusiastic, intelligent new hire. It is an incredibly refreshing experience. If only I knew then what I know now! I've been teaching for close to two decades now, and I have grown to thoroughly appreciate observing the process of new teachers innovating, implementing and reflecting on their lessons. It refreshes my teaching, and I feel I'm able to offer them a foundation of strength to get through the draining first few years.
It is well-known in the education community that the teaching profession has an unusually high turnover rate. There are a host of reasons for this, including job dissatisfaction, organizational characteristics, and insufficient pay. These, along with many other causes, are not easy fixes. The political, economic and societal quandaries are severely entrenched. But we must continue to engage in conversation that might permeate these deep-seeded problems and finally resolve our turnover crisis.
In the mean time, what can be done to help keep talented teachers in the classroom while the foundation is rebuilt? The place to start is with authentic mentoring programs. (I'm actually not a fan of the word "mentoring" since it so often conjures up the image of "administrative training" more than true teacher guidance.) Effective, meaningful mentorship can be done within a given building and it begins with strong, inspirational, compassionate and passionate curricular and content specialists leading the way. In my opinion, it starts with the principal.
It is no mystery that the teaching strategies that are effective in the classroom also work well when nurturing teacher growth. I have worked with a large number of mentors, department chairs, cooperative teachers, and student-teacher supervisors over the past five years to help develop effective ways of welcoming new teachers to a given department. (Just as an aside, one common conversation we have deals with communicating the difference between lesson plans and curriculum. This, I'm afraid, is another blog!)
Authentic guidance requires a continual dialogue focused on teacher reflection and growth. Of course a new teacher is going to worry about mechanics and administrative tasks. Talk them through those. But we must keep the meat of the conversation on what teaching strategies will help to create a constructive learning community and build a positive rapport with students. "Why are you doing what you're doing? Is it working? What will you do differently? Why? etc." These are the same questions that veteran teachers use to explore new horizons. Starting this process early on will aid in a new teacher's growth from the very beginning.
Nurturing new teachers through the first few years of the profession, welcoming them into a new school community can be a fabulous adventure. It refreshes our teaching; it rekindles our desire to push the envelope; it forces us to reflect on our practice. As we model how complex and enlightening and rewarding and fun teaching can be, perhaps we might be able to keep a few more teachers in the profession as they grow to realize just how important this calling, their calling, is.
Educators. Students. Community members. Much more unites us than divides us, particularly knowing we all wear multiple hats. Building relationships. Thinking BIG.
Challenging and supporting one another. Developing engaged, empathetic citizens. Please join me in pondering how best to nurture these common ground connections.