Saturday, October 3, 2015

Be a Mentor; Find a Mentor--Please

Here's depressing: Search "free images teacher" and see how many pages of fake, smiley people you have to go through to get to the other part of reality--especially in the first year! (Loved this one.)

First year teaching is awful. You wonder what in the world kind of career you got yourself into. You have this nightmare like incredulity—I just spent 4 years and a lot of money, and I have to do this the rest of my life?! I’m not even sure I can do it tomorrow! 

Whether it’s the planning, or the grading, or the classroom management, or all three, that give rise to these thoughts, nearly every teacher I talk to—including my mother, now loved, feared, and retired principal of a small Christian school—had these thoughts their first year. (Every teacher except for my husband, and he is unique in many ways, including never having had a first-day-of-school nightmare.) 

Why? That is another blog, perhaps. Many people are addressing it. If we care about our kids and the future of our societies, we must retain good teachers. We must keep them past their first 3 years. I’ve read The New Teacher Book and Supporting Beginning English Teachers. I’ve discussed good induction programs and practices. 

And until now, what I’ve actually done is ask new teachers, “How are you doing?” OF COURSE they say, “Fine! How are you?” How else can they maintain a scrap of dignity? It’s the social protocol!

What changed? This year my daughter is a first year teacher. She’s on a different continent, but by Skype and Facebook chat she details her struggles. I wish she had a proactive, positive mentor in her life. I encourage her, in the absence of such a person, to be the proactive one—searching out positive role models, asking them questions, as she finds what a wonderful recent ASCD article calls her teacher legs. And I pray for such a mentor to come to her.

Then I wonder, “What first-year teacher in my school—or his or her mother or father—is praying the same prayer? And how can I refuse to be the answer?” 

So the next day, when I ran into a first-year English teacher in the coffee/tea corner, after the usual exchange of niceties and everybody being “fine,” I reiterated, “No, really, how are you doing? I know how overwhelming first year teaching can be—I’ve been there, my mom has been there, and my daughter is there right now. I’ve walked though your room. You don’t seem to have any problems with classroom management, but if you ever have any questions or anything you’d like to talk about, please feel free.”

She then said, “Well, actually, I’ve been thinking about my future units, and I was wondering…,” which launched us into a lovely collegial conversation that wandered from thematic teaching, to Christian perspective, to PSAT preparation, to teaching thesis statements, to professional development. I think she is truly doing “fine.” And I think that, as we continue to follow up with similar professional conversations, if she ever is not doing fine, she will let me know.

If you are an experienced teacher who has found your “teacher legs,” please, look around you and find someone who is a first, second, or third-year teacher. It might be my daughter. It will certainly be somebody’s daughter or son. It could well have been you any number of years ago. Be the mentor and colleague who made a difference for you—or who you wish had been there to make a difference for you. That new teacher might also be the inspiration your child or grandchild will never have if you are not there to show that new teacher the benefits and beauties and possibilities of hanging in there in this most challenging and most rewarding of professions.

If you are an inexperienced teacher: You are so needed. If you are well-mentored, I am glad. If you are not, I am deeply sorry that we, your colleagues, are not flocking to your side, telling you daily it is possible, and we will help you, until you are able to find your legs, to see the joy, and to help others. Please, take the initiative, though you shouldn’t have to, to find a teacher in your building who is positive and effective, and ask him or her a question or two. 

Until most of our societies and institutions figure out this education thing—including how to induct, keep, reward, and value teachers—we must reach out to each other—for the good of ourselves, our profession, our kids, our world.

Hang in there. Find a connection. Be a connection. Find joy.

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