Sunday, August 19, 2012

Mentoring Beginning Teachers

Several years ago a young teacher I was working with needed to get a year a mentoring in as part of her certification. We were itinerant staff and our parent organization would not provide her with a mentor because of that status. Having worked with her and so having a feel for what I might need to do, I offered to be her mentor for the year. We spent about half an hour a week, sometimes more, sometimes less in collegial conversations, sharing highlights and concerns. It worked well because we shared a room and had a time when neither of us could schedule students. (We were hourly staff. If students could be scheduled, they were. If not we, mostly, were not there.) When we were each given our own space, the habit of sharing that down time was continued. It was a good experience for both of us.

Mentoring Beginning Teachers: Guiding, Reflecting, Coaching, 2nd Edition by Jean Boreen, Mary K. Johnson, Donna Niday, and Joe Potts discusses how to prepare mentors for the role. I would have benefited from this book back then. It does a nice job of outlining what an ideal program looks like and what real programs end up like and how to make the best of it. By not being too idealistic, the book ends up as a practical coaching guide.

I think that the thing I will use most from this book is a chart on page 65 adapted from Nunan, 1990, p. 82 which is a format for analyzing classroom interactions. As a consultant teacher, one of the things I occasionally have done is charted questioning in terms of who is asked and how often. It reveals interesting things to the teachers I share this with. I see this documentation strategy as good tool for looking at what types of questions and interactions teachers have with the individual students. All too often, my special ed students are not given rich, thoughtful questions to respond to.  If we want all our students to become critical thinkers, even our slow processing, language delayed, limited capacity students can be prodded and scaffolded to engage in higher level thought. It may require more time and scaffolding than some of the other students, but it helps prepare them for tasks that we want them to be able to engage in. This sort of data may be valuable to our professional discussions.

I enjoyed the examples of interactions throughout the text. They illustrate examples of concern, good practice and behaviors that mere description does not do justice. A key thought that is given is that since no one is perfect, there may not be a "right" time to engage in mentoring. The authors highlight the benefits of mentoring to the mentor as well as the mentee.  Probably the biggest weakness is the lack of real strategies to deal with time limitations. Unfortunately, preservice and beginning teachers are overwhelmed with planning, extra curricular responsibilities and coursework while the mentors have busy lives as well. Schools do not always give time for meeting with a mentor and that significantly reduces the effectiveness of the program. Squeezing in less time may not be effective or adequate to meet the needs of the individuals.

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