Being paired with your NQT mentor is a lucky dip. If you are fortunate enough to wind up with one who is patient, positive and always makes time for you, you can breathe a sigh of relief because your NQT year just got a lot easier. Not everyone is so blessed, though. So, what do you do when it all goes wrong? Here are the four most common problems you might face and how to tackle them.
1. ‘My mentor doesn’t have time for me’
Many complaints about mentors stem from their lack of time and availability to support their NQT. Everyone is busy but it is important that you meet with your mentor regularly. If they are not proactive in arranging these meetings, you will have to “manage up” and get them into the diary yourself. If there are genuine timetabling issues, you may need to involve a middle leader, who should be able support the process, perhaps by covering your mentor’s class for half an hour every week so that they can meet with you.
2. ‘My mentor doesn’t like the way I teach’
If you encounter this problem, try not take it too much to heart. Remember, there are many different styles of teaching and your mentor may find it hard not to advise you based on what they themselves would do. The best course of action is for you and your mentor to conduct joint observations of other teachers. Exposure to a variety of teaching styles is important for your development, but doing this will also allow your mentor to look critically at other styles and reflect on their merits – something they may not have done a lot of since their own training.
3. ‘My mentor and I don’t really get on’
Your mentor is there to support you but you shouldn’t rely on them entirely. Make sure you get to know other colleagues, so that you always have someone to turn to when you need advice. If your school has an informal “buddy” or “critical friend” system, make use of it. And if this is something that doesn’t already exist, why not suggest it to one of the middle leaders? They will surely appreciate your input.
4. ‘My mentor has given me too many things to work on’
Sit down with them and prioritise the areas to focus on. Then create an action plan and timeline for developing each target. Suggest to your mentor that you would like to focus on one thing at a time and ask them to help you facilitate an “open door” lesson, in which other teachers, particularly curriculum leads, are invited to drop in and observe you informally.
During this process, make it clear what it is that you’ve been asked to concentrate on. For example: “I am working on pace in this lesson. Please provide feedback on this and one other area.”
This will allow you to gather a range of opinions while ensuring that people’s comments are limited and not overwhelming.
Lacey Flook is a middle leader at the Bridge Learning Campus in Bristol