Advice from Mentor Teachers for New (and Experienced) Teachers


This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >


Being a mentor teacher to a teaching candidate is quite a privilege and honor, as you are integral in nurturing and helping that new teacher to reflect and improve upon his or her instruction. I recently reached out to fellow mentor teachers and asked them about their advice and best practices, not only for teacher mentors, but also for new teachers in the field. Here are some great quotes and points from these practicing mentors.

For New Teachers
Make Relationships with the Right People
Ted Malefyt is a middle school science teacher for Hamilton Community Schools in Michigan. He has a passion for project-based learning that creates relevant learning. He tells us to “build working relationships with the forward-thinking teachers who are excited about being a life-long learner.” I remember that, when I first started teaching, there were some teachers who were often negative. I chose not to align with them, as I knew it would not help me nurture myself, nor remain hopeful about education. It’s important to find colleagues that, although they may challenge you, still have the best interests of students at heart, and are hopeful about their roles as teachers. Build relationships with reflective, life-long learners to become one!

Make Sure You Really Want to Teach
Heather Anderson is an English and Spanish teacher at the Health and Sciences High and Middle College in San Diego, California. She has expertise in gradual release of responsibility, close reading and text-dependent questions. She echoes a core belief that I think all potential educators need to consider — make sure you really want to be a teacher. “First and foremost, make sure that this is the career for you. I think that many beginning teachers have a sense of grandeur that does not meet the reality of the classroom. Make sure you visit schools before you student teach. We learn a lot of theory in our classes, but the actual implementation and day-to-day grind of teaching is very different than those courses you took in college.” I really do agree with the advice to visit schools before jumping into a program. Set up interviews or coffee with a teacher friend and ask great questions.

For Mentor Teachers
Be Patient and Compassionate
As a veteran teacher, it can be hard to remember what it was like as a brand new teacher, or one considering jumping into the profession. Sometimes we focus so much on the technical side of becoming a teacher that we forget the social-emotional component. Heather reminds us, “New teachers are eager and passionate. They are also extremely scared and delicate. They need someone that they can trust. They need someone that they can celebrate with and also someone who will let them express their fears and concerns.” Give new teachers the benefit of the doubt, be honest in feedback, and give time for improvement. After all, we were all there at some time.

Nurture Unit and Lesson Design
Sometimes we focus too much on delivery of the lesson rather than the design of the lesson itself. As mentor teachers, seek opportunities to let teacher candidates design or co-design lessons and units. I wrote about this belief in a previous blog. Ted says, “Providing as many opportunities as we can to design and create for the classroom is very important in changing the culture of education.” I couldn’t agree more.

For All Teachers
Become a Reader
I was not much of a reader when I first entered teaching. I think it was because I was “forced” to read material that I didn’t find relevant. However, the more I looked for great books on education or got recommendations from colleagues, the more I was able to re-find that love of reading. As Ted says “I also highly recommend becoming an avid reader of books that deal with everything from education to innovation and creativity.” There are so many books on education out there. Find something that works for you and that will push your thinking. It will help to keep you energized and model life-long learning for your students.

“Fail Forward”
Almost all the mentor teachers I talked to reminded me of a phrase I use often, to “fail forward.” They expressed that all mistakes they made were part of the journey. As Heather says, “Teaching is a dance. You change your style and movements depending on your partner. With each student and each classroom dynamic, you, in essence, have a new partner.” We all have good days and bad days, but every day we touch the lives of children, and we can learn from these moments to improve education for all.

Leverage Social Media
There is so much that social media has to offer teachers, both experienced and new. Build your PLN, participate in Twitter chats, read blogs and find resources. There are great ideas out there, and we can support each other. Consider sharing your ideas in a blog as well, if you’re comfortable putting yourself out there.

I would love to hear more from mentor teachers, both in terms of the role they play and their advice for anyone considering the teaching profession. I believe that, although there is a formal mentor teacher in the student-teaching phase, we are all mentor teachers, and we have much to learn from each other.

New and Old Challenges for Teacher Candidates


This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >


It’s been many years since I went through my teacher certification and student teaching, and wow! A lot has changed. And yet, there are still some stories of the journey to become a new teacher that remain the same. I recently reached out to my alma mater to speak not only with old professors, but also with current teacher candidates to ask them what it has been like for them.

There is a new teacher certification, the edTPA, that is being used in many states. It is a high-stakes exam that requires teachers to plan for engaging students and reflect on practice, and it focuses on intentionality of that plan. I had a similar assessment, which was more of a performance assessment of my teaching that included unit plans, reflection, and observations by a teaching supervisor. However, the edTPA is a writing exam, and not really a teaching exam like the National Board certification assessment.

There are also some other pieces that make educators skeptical. It is a privatized exam through Pearson, costs $300, and is scored outside of the context of the teaching practice. In other words, the people scoring the exam are not familiar with the context in which the teacher candidate is teaching. In a blog last year, Diane Ravitch summarized these and many other concerns about edTPA. Amy Ryken, Professor of Education at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington (my alma mater), also mentioned that smaller schools seem to be doing fairly well with this assessment, while larger schools are struggling. In fact, she has this to say:

For the past two years, our faculty scored our candidates’ TPAs, and our scores were consistently lower than Pearson’s scores — meaning that Puget Sound already had a higher standard for our candidates.

Teacher candidate Madeline Isaacson echoed many of the positive thoughts and concerns about the edTPA. She currently is K-8 candidate.

For years, the art of teaching has been within the confines of the four walls of the classroom, and I see the TPA as an opportunity for collaboration within the profession and inducting novice teachers into a professional community where reflection and experimentation are normal. However, I also find the enormous workload inhibits my ability to fully take over planning and teaching in my classroom. The university has adjusted its student teaching plan to the enhanced model, which has elementary candidates take over one core subject and one other subject at a time to support the time commitment of the TPA. Due to not being able to commit the time to taking over full days, I often still feel like a student and not a learning professional.
During my own student teaching, I was able to take over the entire day after a gradual release. I too am disheartened to see that this was no longer the case.

Student Teaching
I also reached out to Grant Ruby, a teacher candidate for secondary mathematics education. Like many of us, he was inspired by a great math teacher to pursue a career in teaching, and he also comes from a family of educators. He articulated many of the same challenges that all teachers go through, and reminded me of my challenges when I first started teaching (what I like to call baptism by fire).

I feel that I am facing two large challenges. Neither is more important than the other, as they go hand in hand. One is lesson planning and bringing activities to the classroom that are inquiry based. Rather than giving my students definitions and practicing problems repeatedly, I want them to explore mathematical concepts and come to their own conclusions before introducing the core definitions or theorems. This can be tricky with students who struggle with some of the basic concepts of algebra. My other main struggle is part and parcel of student teaching: classroom management. By this I mean both working to keep students engaged with the lesson and behaving in a non-disruptive manner, and involving all students in the learning process.

During his candidacy, Grant has a structure that many are familiar with. He has a mentor teacher who has really helped him by observing and giving specific feedback that has pushed him. He can also rely on a cohort of teacher candidates to reflect with and collaborate regularly. I remember how important it was to have colleagues to work with, professors that are nurturing and available, and an awesome mentor teacher, Keri, with whom I still keep in regular contact.

Grant and Madeline inspired me with thoughts about what it means to be a great teacher, and really showed me that we can always learn from each other, regardless of years of experience in education. Madeline said:

As an organizer of students’ learning, I want to create a learning atmosphere that radiates diversity and facilitates high academic achievement for all students. I will place students at the center of learning and turn their personal interests and strengths into opportunities for academic success.

And Grant said:

I believe a successful teacher is one that can awaken the curiosity of their students, illustrate the intrinsic value of the subject matter, and foster understanding rather than memorization.

Teachers, what are your strongest memories from your training period? And candidates, does your current experience match Madeline Isaacson and Grant Ruby’s observations? Please share in the comments section below.