It is sometimes said that you don’t really learn to drive until after you’ve passed your driving test. The analogy isn’t dissimilar to teaching, in that you learn so much about the craft of the classroom when you are finally in charge of your own classes. That’s why early career teacher mentors are so important for providing encouragement, support, reassurance and guidance to teachers starting their first jobs.
Tips for mentors of early career teachers
More often than not, an effective mentor leads to a highly proficient new teacher. So how can you ensure you're doing the best for your mentee? Here's my advice.
Whether you chose to become a mentor, or it was chosen for you, your school should commit to giving you time each week to do the role properly. This time – at least one hour a week, but ideally two to three – should be protected in your timetable.
It’s likely that you’ll be the most important colleague for your mentee in their first year. Just as you would with a new class, get to know them and try to build a relationship of trust between you. Work out what makes them tick, the kind of support they need and the best way to deliver it. Be developmental, not judgemental – regular small steps in progress are far more likely for a new teacher, rather than giant leaps in a small space of time.
New teachers: 10 ways to claim your classroom space
Powerful knowledge: What teachers need to understand
3. Enable independence
The sooner a new teacher can operate in school independently, the sooner they can concentrate fully on the core business of their jobs – teaching. A good guide is to consider logistics, location and lesson planning.
Logistics: Share the operational functions of the department and the wider school with your mentee as early as possible. Be mindful that while the school may have written policies, it’s often what is unwritten that establishes a school’s culture – be open with your mentee about what is expected and what isn’t. Remember that a new teacher will simply want to fit in and do things right, so tell them what success in the school looks like for a new teacher.
Location: Show your mentee around the school and introduce them to key people. A map of the school and its classes will also be invaluable to a new teacher.
Lesson planning: The best schools have banks of teaching resources for teachers. In my first year I had access to a room full of model lesson plans, worksheets and resources structured via the scheme of work I was teaching. This can be a life-saving, so if your school or department does not have one of these, then take the bull by its horns and start developing one.
4. Focus on the craft of teaching
A new teacher will be very used to being observed, receiving feedback and observing others, and this routine, centred around the new teacher’s areas of development, should be the bedrock of the professional dialogue between you. It is worth recapping on some basics to include:
- The school’s systems around the management of behaviour.
- How to create the right climate in their classrooms, and how to establish the necessary boundaries from the outset.
- Reviewing lesson plans together.
- Techniques to adapt teaching to cater for different pupil needs and circumstances.
- Examination syllabuses.
Many initial teacher training programmes were hit hard by the Covid pandemic, and so some new teachers may not have acquired as much knowledge or had the chance to apply it compared with previous cohorts. The more new teachers are given the chance to observe more experienced teachers, the better. Where there are some gaps in teaching knowledge, I have found much success with new teachers in focusing them on the following five areas when they are planning, delivering and reviewing their lesson:
- What learning is going on here?
- By whom? Everyone?
- Is it sufficient?
- What difference has this lesson made to these pupils?
- How do I know this?
5. Achieving the right balance
As over a half of new teachers leave the profession after five years, the role of a good mentor is probably the game-changer in reversing this worrying statistic. As you’ll know, teaching will keep taking if you let it, so impart your experience of how you handle the job. While teaching is a responsible and high-profile job, its importance is not as high as someone’s wellbeing. Encourage new teachers to strike the right balance between work, family, home, friends, holiday, hobbies and health.
I am convinced that effective in-school mentoring is the special ingredient for success as a new teacher. While time to do the job properly will likely remain a barrier for a while longer, the tide is changing with the importance placed on mentoring in the Early Career Framework. I don’t think we are far away from mentoring becoming a genuine career route in our schools.
Professor Geraint Jones is the associate pro-vice-chancellor and executive director at the National School of Education and Teaching, Coventry University