Five ways being a mentor is like being a new parent

Just like parenting, new mentors should trust that they will get better at the job as they go, says Sana Masters

Sana Master

Teacher mentoring

Being a mentor to a trainee teacher for the first time is much like being a first-time parent.

And the analogy is a useful one for finding your way through the role if you’re a new to it. So, here are the five-stages of parenting/mentoring you will need to navigate:

1. Realisation

There’s a moment on becoming a mentor when you suddenly realise that YOU are responsible for the development of this newborn teacher. At once, the shrieking headlines detailing the rising recruitment and retention crisis fill you with fear. You feel an overwhelming responsibility to protect that trainee from everything.

It’s the same as being a parent: there is an onslaught of baby advice when you first take your child home and every single thing is highlighted as a potential danger. As the parent, you spend your time worrying about every small detail and potential threat. It is exhausting.

Don’t worry: these feelings are natural. And, with time, you realise that the mentee (and the baby) is much more robust than you might think and that, try as you might, you alone cannot protect them from everything.

2. Imposter syndrome

Having a baby is hard: no one trains you for it, the internet is full of picture-perfect parents and it’s not as if the baby can give you detailed feedback on your performance. As such, you spend a lot of time believing you are doing everything wrong.

When your trainee arrives, it is the same. You may have been teaching for years but, suddenly, the doubts creep in and you end up questioning everything. Clearly, somebody has judged you competent enough to train a teacher but the fear remains: do you really know what you’re talking about?

The key here is to relax, to listen to your instincts, seek advice when you need it and believe in yourself: you know what you are doing.

3. The desire to create a clone

Once you remember that you are qualified and experienced enough to take on the responsibility of raising a newborn, you then have to battle a rising desire to turn them into a clone of yourself.

It’s the same when mentoring. You will have strong ideas about what makes good teaching and how things should be done but you have to let trainees find their own way, while listening to your advice, of course.

Embrace the “Why don't you try it?” approach when asked about a strategy or method that they’ve seen elsewhere but that you’re not keen on. The key here is to allow them to take risks and – who knows? – maybe it’s a strategy that they’ll be better able to utilise than you can.

4. Trust

You eventually realise that being a mentor means you have to allow somebody else to take control of at least one, possibly more, of your own classes. It’s like handing over your car keys to your gleeful teenage newly qualified driver while peeking through the fingers of your other hand, desperately hoping there won’t be a crash.

If you’re a control freak like me, letting go, sitting invisibly at the back and allowing the lesson to unfold, perhaps even into a disaster, is bloody tough. I learned that relinquishing control takes time. Take a deep breath, step back and allow your trainee to take the wheel. What’s the worst that can happen?

5. Revealing the truth

Finally, you discover that, sometimes, it’s really difficult to walk the walk. Like telling a teenager to drink responsibly while hungover yourself, with your mentee, you very earnestly give advice on how to respond to a situation and then, in real-world scenarios, you don’t always do things the textbook way.

The uncomfortably hypocritical phrase "Do as I say, not as I do" was on repeat in my own head as a mentor. You find yourself justifying yourself, like any good parent. It is, after all, for their own good.

Sana Master is an English teacher at a school in Yorkshire. She tweets @MsMaster13

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