At the start of my first teaching job, I was assigned a mentor to guide me through the early stages of my career as a teacher. I was skeptical. Besides teaching the same grade level, would we have anything in common? Would she be genuinely invested in this mandated program? I expected to be navigating the challenges of a new career alone.
To my surprise, she scheduled time with me every Wednesday after school to work on my lesson plans and improve my practice. I would bring my ideas and activities, and she would help me refine them. We did this together for my entire first year, so that the following year I had an already successful curriculum ready.
While this support helped me feel prepared for my lessons, her emotional support proved to be even more important. There was one particularly bad day that I remember from my first year. I felt defeated, inadequate, and lost; I was left wondering if teaching was actually the career for me.
I went to the first person I always went to in these situations. By this time, she was not only a mentor, but a trusted partner. I went to her room at the end of the day, holding back tears, and unloaded everything that had been weighing on me.
Her response was so simple, yet was exactly what I needed: “This is normal.” She let me know that despite the tough moments that almost every teacher faces, things would always be ok, and that she was here to help me.
If your school doesn’t have a formal mentorship program, I encourage you to go find one. It’s intimidating to seek out veteran teachers, but more often than not, they will want to help you. Once you find someone that you want to learn from, ask questions and follow up. Show you are eager to learn from them and build the relationship naturally.
Having a mentor who will guide you without judgment or evaluation is extremely valuable and special. They’re able to teach us lessons from their mistakes, while helping us through our own, and provide a perspective we don’t yet have.
I wish I knew how much I would be able to lean on this mentor. If I knew this, I would have learned a lot sooner. I would not be the educator I am today if it weren’t for her.
Now that I have over 15 years’ experience under my belt, I constantly offer my time and advice to my mentees. Whether formal or not, I truly believe in the power of passing down wisdom, and helping young teachers who may be lost on their path.