This post was written by NCTE member Shelby M. Boehm.
Recently there was an article circulating on Twitter identifying the need for veteran teachers to check on the first-year teachers in their building as the school year began. The piece claims that new teachers need mentors, suggesting that support from these established educators is a way to increase success in the first year of teaching.
I’d like to make a suggestion using the reverse notion: mentors need new teachers.
I recently transitioned from teaching high school English to pursue a doctoral degree in English education. Part of this new role involves talking with preservice and new teachers about their experiences in middle school English language arts classrooms.
Yes, they often have questions about curriculum ideas, student behavior, and the like. But what these novice practitioners also possess are fresh perspectives, eagerness to support new students, and hope for the profession. I’m continuously learning what it means to teach through their experiences. With this in mind, I suggest interactions with new teachers can be beneficial to those in traditionally established mentor roles (i.e., experienced teachers).
New teachers can inspire you.
Every person has a perspective. Regardless of whether they are new to teaching or new to your building, original ideas from new teachers can help invigorate schools. Mentor teachers should view the outlook of new teachers as valuable, especially in discussing curriculum and (re)considering decisions made before their arrival. Also, by listening to the ideas of new teachers, you’re affirming their role in your school and sending a message that they belong.
New teachers want to support students.
Being new allows for a different vantage point. New teachers usually have no context and past histories for students, meaning they won’t bring in a perspective influenced by reputation. Listening to how new teachers are supporting students may challenge you to rethink your classroom management practices and community-building methods.
New teachers are excited to be teachers.
In most situations, new teachers are enthusiastic about teaching. They have hope for what teaching as a profession can (and should) be. If you’ve been teaching for a while, this optimism can be misplaced somewhere between paperwork, faculty meetings, and standardized testing. However, I would encourage you to listen to new teachers talk about their passion for the work. You may find yourself reflecting on your reasons for beginning and continuing your journey in the classroom.
I agree that mentors matter tremendously. During my first year in the classroom, my assigned mentor Mrs. Kaminsky helped me consider curriculum and spent many of her planning periods observing me teach. She provided helpful feedback on both my developing strengths and weaknesses. But mostly, she made me feel heard and seen. She made me feel like I belonged in a department that was already established by asking for my perspective. She treated me as a teacher doing good work before I felt like one. Yes, new teachers need mentor teachers. Yet, I also hope that we might consider how mentor teachers need new teachers as they continue to learn and adapt within an ever-changing and challenging profession.