Tes has recently been focusing – quite rightly – on NQTs, the new arrivals to the nation’s classrooms and the future of the profession. But I’d like to set aside some column space for the under-recognised, experienced and often overworked teachers who take on responsibility for mentoring these valuable new recruits. You.
You may be a busy subject leader, with all the workload that role entails. You may not have chosen the additional mentor role. You may never have mentored an NQT in your life – until your school recruits a beginning teacher, often at the last minute. Then into your hands falls the responsibility of ensuring the success of the induction year – soon to be two years within the Early Career Framework.
While PGCE mentors have chosen their role, received the training and are supported by universities and Scitt partnerships, being a mentor of a beginning teacher is a much less structured process. You may be at a loss as to where to begin.
How to support NQTs
So, to help fill the gap, here are some tips from my own experience:
1. Be prepared. Read through the wealth of documentation, here and here, ahead of your first meeting, so that you can have some idea of the shape of the year, deadlines and meeting dates with senior managers who will also oversee the mentoring process. Make sure that your mentoring time is protected on the timetable, and not encroached on by cover requirements.
2. Meet the GDPR requirements. Ensure that all confidential information from lesson observations and meetings is securely kept online in a location that both you and your mentee can access. Know who needs to know specific types of information and when.
3. Cover the basics. Think ahead for your NQT, about the things you would have needed to know. Some things are basic, such as where the facilities and photocopiers are, the location of teaching rooms, where the stationery is, where the textbooks are, and how the routines of the department work. Some are only obvious once a hole in your thinking is revealed. It’s embarrassing, but it happens to all of us.
4. Adopt a professional stance. Be friendly, approachable and positive, but leave a professional distance. We all want to be liked. But, as with pupils, you function best as a mentor when you can be most objective. Your mentee needs expertise and objectivity, which a friend who is too close cannot supply. In extreme cases, you have to be the bearer of bad news about your NQT’s performance, and you may even have to put measures in place to help them improve. Their life and yours will be much easier if this can be done without incurring a sense of betrayal.
5. At all times, be honest. Diplomacy is important, as long as it does not obscure the crucial messages that you may have to convey
6. Keep the paperwork under control. (If only!) Know what you’re signed up for, in terms of paperwork to be filled in each week. Yes, there’s that to look forward to. It’s a sad truth that there is no activity in teaching that is paperwork-free. Try to be positive and derive from the exercise the maximum learning benefit with the minimum detail.
7. Be realistic about the amount of time you can give to your mentoring role. It’s highly likely that you are also a subject head so, unlike many PGCE mentors, you cannot give your NQT undivided attention. Sometimes you will have to tackle departmental issues at the same time as your mentee needs you. Develop holding strategies and…
8. Share the responsibility within your department. There are many benefits to sharing mentoring duties among colleagues. It vastly increases your pool of time and expertise.
9. Compile a list of expert teachers within your school. All NQTs should have extra space on their timetables for observation of other colleagues. So whose lessons are well worth observing? Who will be happy to sit with the NQT after the lesson to discuss new techniques and approaches, and even suggest how to cope with difficult behaviour from students they share?
10. Have some emergency teaching resources available, should your NQT hit the inevitable black hole. More importantly, know where to find other material, should the need arise. The biggest fear of any teacher is having nothing to teach. Most of us now keep our resources in files shared across departments. so make sure you also signpost your NQT to those resources created by others as well.
11. Be creative. The advantage of mentoring someone is that they and you can experiment with new techniques, especially when the tried and trusted methods don’t work.
12. Enjoy the good times. The responsibility is large, but that doesn’t mean it’s a permanent penance.
13. You don’t always have to be the expert. Just as NQTs can be overwhelmed by the high expectations of those around them – and by their own expectations – so can you. Give yourself a break. No one is all-singing, all-dancing – at least not all of the time. And, finally…
14. All mentors need mentors. The responsibility for a professional’s wellbeing can be draining, not least because of the excessive pressure to retain new teachers beyond the first five years. But what is not sufficiently recognised is the demand it places on those already shouldering other responsibilities. Find yourself someone you can talk to when the going gets tough. Your mental health is important, too.
At the outset, the responsibility is huge. Along the way, things inevitably get tough. But the personal and professional rewards of establishing a teacher who will have enormous impact on so many young lives will be worth having.
Yvonne Williams is a head of English and drama in a school in the South of England