I subscribe to Edutopia to keep tabs on the latest developments in education. Recently, I came across the article Every Teacher Needs a Mentor by Heather Wolpert-Gawron. Studies have shown that effective student learning stems from teacher well-being. I couldn’t agree more with Heather’s take on mentoring.
My teaching career did not feature a Dead Poets Society style mentor. After graduating from Teacher’s College, I immediately started teaching in China. I was thrown into the deep end. I was the only math and science teacher, so I was the department head by default. While arrangement had its advantages—I learned a lot on the job and had to be independent from the very beginning—I wish that I had a mentor at the time.
I had a supportive principal who would listen to my ideas and ask questions like “What is your teaching philosophy? Does the new strategy I’m proposing align with it?” Those brief conversations were crucial to my development as a teacher, offering me a chance to reflect on my teaching.To elaborate on Heather’s and Educational Leadership’s lists of qualities that every mentor should have, a good mentor should be:
I never fully understood the saying “patience is a virtue” until I became a teacher. I dedicate 100% of my energy to being patient with my students. Regardless of how many weird questions they ask, there is no such thing as a stupid question. We all know this, but sometimes it takes a lot to take a step back and re-explain a concept. A mentor should exhibit the same patience for the mentee.
Good teachers incorporate new strategies that suit different types of learners. I’ve met a handful of teachers who are willing to go the extra mile and learn about new tools that other educators use in their classrooms. A mentor should be innovative and progressive, applying what the students know to their learning.
Respectful and Respected
Needless to say, a good teacher should be respectful of other teachers’ opinions and teaching styles. It’s equally important that students respect the the teacher. I’m not talking about a popularity contest, but actual respect.
I’m still on the lookout for a mentor. Although I haven’t been able to approach a senior teacher yet (it takes a lot to ask, trust me!), I’m fortunate to be surrounded by teachers that exhibit these traits. But not every good teacher is willing to take you under their wing. It takes a lot to mentor an adult! As Heather suggested, I may need to go off-campus to find my own.