How to Be an Impactful Mentor Teacher

A new teacher confers with their mentor.

At the end of every school year, 10% of teachers leave their schools and never return, according to a study from the Economic Policy Institute. In fact, in some states as many as 24% of teachers leave the profession on a yearly basis. While those exiting cite many reasons for their departure, they repeatedly express insufficient support. The support they lack can range from insufficient training for integrating new learning standards to inadequate professional development for trauma-informed teaching.

A mentor teacher can serve as a lifeline to new and struggling teachers. Mills College offers an online Master of Arts in Educational Leadership that equips educators with the tools to provide meaningful support to teachers to help them thrive.

The Role of a Mentor Teacher

Mentor teachers can play an invaluable role in helping new and struggling teachers. Through both encouragement and guidance, mentor teachers help those under their wings develop as professionals. Mentorships help new and struggling teachers overcome the challenges they face by giving them the tools to tackle everything from behavior management problems to incorporating differentiated instruction techniques into lessons with finesse.

Typically, mentorships involve the pairing of expert teachers with teachers at the beginning of their careers or with teachers experiencing difficulties in particular areas. Mentor teachers use their advanced or specialized skills to support and assist their mentees so the mentees can grow and improve as teachers.

Novice and struggling educators turn to mentor teachers for their experience and knowledge about teaching strategies, time management, and relationship building with colleagues, administrators, students, and parents. Mentor teachers can also help their mentees navigate school, district, and union policies, as well as adapt to a school’s culture.

Why Teachers Should Have a Mentor

Mentors build trusting relationships that allow them to teach, lead, and advise their mentees. New teachers often rely on their mentors to help them through tough times and act as allies. Ultimately, mentor teachers empower other teachers to thrive despite the considerable challenges they may confront.

Challenges Less Experienced Teachers Often Face

Less experienced teachers can easily feel overwhelmed by the difficulty of applying what they learned in their studies to dynamic classroom settings in real time. Consider the following ways mentor teachers can help less experienced teachers manage.

Taking Charge of a Classroom

Setting a tone that communicates a teacher means to lead, collaborate with, and support students takes practice. Knowing how to set boundaries and establish effective routines requires a learning process as well. Mentor teachers have years of practice taking charge of classrooms and can pass along valuable advice to their mentees.

Managing Time and Complex Teaching Schedules

New teachers often feel they lack enough hours in the day to complete the tasks before them. Mentor teachers can offer time-saving methods for grading, lesson planning, creating bulletin boards, communicating with parents, and so on. They can also give direction in prioritizing work and managing complex teaching schedules.

Getting Comfortable with Fellow Teachers and Administrators

Collaboration is not only a valuable tool, it’s often required in education, especially for interdisciplinary curricula. Building relationships with other teachers that facilitate that collaboration requires specific skills. Mentor teachers can give useful insights about how to cultivate healthy collaborative relationships with other teachers, as well as successful working relationships with supervisors.

Gaining Familiarity with Curriculum

Schools take various approaches to their curricula and often have unique priorities they expect teachers to integrate into unit plans. Becoming familiar with a curriculum’s layers is a process. Mentor teachers can help their mentees understand the ins and outs of their school’s curriculum.

How Do You Mentor a Struggling Teacher?

Mentor teachers can provide meaningful guidance to struggling teachers in a number of ways.

Building a Relationship with a New Teacher and Establishing Trust

Trust and respect are key ingredients for successful mentorships. To establish trust and respect, mentors must build relationships with new teachers. This can involve sharing stories about their own teaching journey and asking new teachers about their path to education. It also involves setting goals and expectations and keeping confidential conversations private.

Acting as a Role Model

Mentors serve as role models, and should demonstrate positivity about teaching and learning, as well as a willingness to learn and develop new skills themselves. Enthusiasm about teaching methods or opportunities to collaborate in partnerships with museums, theaters, or other institutions models the attitude new teachers will need to build rich and long-lasting careers.

Sharing Professional Skills

New teachers at the early stages of developing their skills as educators can develop those skills much faster with the guidance of experienced mentors. By modeling their teaching methods, sharing their materials, giving organizational tips, and offering advice about various types of assessments, mentors can give new teachers a huge boost.

Sharing professional skills also involves coaching new teachers through their implementation. Mentors can use classroom observations as a tool to take notes and deliver feedback to new teachers starting with what they’re doing right and then addressing areas for improvement. Additionally, they can ask questions that encourage new teachers to reflect on their teaching practices so they can come up with solutions that fit their own skill sets and interests.

Collaborating on Projects or Ideas for Teaching

When mentors collaborate on projects or ideas for teaching with new teachers, they give new teachers the opportunity to hear an experienced educator’s thought process and method of approach. It also allows new teachers to learn about mistakes mentors have made in the past and the reasons why they conduct themselves as they do. Access to that information allows new teachers to avoid common pitfalls.

Collaborating on projects also gives mentors additional opportunities to coach new teachers and discover their strengths and weaknesses. This allows mentors to give more meaningful and accurate feedback.

Listening to Their Concerns

The stress new teachers experience often calls for a shoulder to lean on, or in some cases to cry on. Having a patient, understanding ally at their side offering an empathetic ear can get new teachers through the roughest days. Mentors offer perspective to new teachers so they can let things go, cope with disappointments and frustrations, and even feel rejuvenated.

Celebrating Successes

Despite the frustrations and growing pains of teaching, all teachers experience moments when they find the perfect solutions to classroom management problems or figure out an innovative approach that helps struggling students. Everyone appreciates recognition for their accomplishments, but recognition can be especially important for new teachers who may feel overwhelmed by their struggles. When mentors celebrate the successes of new teachers, they help lift them up, reminding them that more successes are on the way.

Become a Mentor Teacher and Empower Educators

Mentor teachers serve an instrumental role in supporting new and struggling teachers. By sharing their expertise, mentors accelerate the development of novice educators and enrich their careers for years to come. Become a leader in education with Mills College, and learn more about empowering new teachers with the online Master of Arts in Educational Leadership.

Advocating for Teachers: Strategies to Improve Teacher Retention

How to Create a Professional Development Plan for Teachers

How to Promote Change and Equality in Education

Sources

Chalkbeat, “Mentors Matter: Good Teaching Really Can Be Passed Down to Student Teachers, New Research Finds”

Economic Policy Institute, “U.S. Schools Struggle to Hire and Retain Teachers”

Edutopia, “Every Teacher Needs a Mentor”

Getting Smart, “The Importance of Being a Mentor and Having a Mentor”

The Graide Network, “Why Some States Have Higher Teacher Turnover Rates Than Others”

Scholastic, “Successful Mentor Relationships”

Southern Regional Education Board, “Mentoring New Teachers: A Fresh Look”

Study.com, “Time Management for Teachers In and Out of the Classroom”

Teach Better, “Student Teacher Mentoring 101”