Saturday, December 6, 2014

Paying It Forward

While I often come across as a confident seasoned teacher, the dark truth is that this persona took many years to create.  I willingly admit that my first few years teaching were rough.  Not only did I move to a new area of the country, away from my friends and family, I took on a job in an urban district that was the polar opposite of what I experienced growing up.  Luckily for me, I had a principal, vice-principal and a few experienced colleagues who admired my passion as well as my willingness to move for the sake of job security and took me under their wings.  To this day, I am not sure if I would have stayed in teaching or at least in my current district, had I not had the benefit of excellent mentors.

As I became a seasoned teacher, I realized that my experiences with excellent mentors is unfortunately an exception rather than the rule in the teaching profession.  In fact, I have witnessed many cases where colleagues do not even introduce themselves to new colleagues, never mind offer helpful advice.  In an effort to pay it forward, I make it a priority to connect with at least one newer teacher each year.  I believe that if every other teacher did the same thing, the retention rate within the profession would skyrocket.  Here are some tips for making it happen:

  • Decide Who You Can Help The Most: Despite my best efforts, I realize that my personality and teaching expertise do not resonate with every colleague.  When deciding who I am going to offer my expertise to, I often gravitate towards those who teach ESOL students.  In the case of this year, I am working with two teachers who not only teach ESOL students, they happen to be from the Northeast so we are able to relate on a cultural level.  
  • Be A Good Visitor: Since I have a reduced course load this year, I have spent a significant amount of time in my mentees' classrooms.  Visiting your mentee's classroom while she is teaching is a good way to identify additional ways that you can help.  However, this must be approached with caution as this can make your mentee nervous about being "observed", even if that is not your intent.  When I first started visiting my mentees, I went sans computer or notebook, only with a willingness to roll up my sleeves and help.  As the year progressed and my mentees asked for specific feedback, I showed them a checklist that I created and offered to bring it to my future visits.  Since my previous visits were like Vegas (what happened there, stayed there), they have no reason to fear anything that I record during the lesson and eagerly welcome my feedback and suggestions.
  • Be Accessible, Yet Flexible: Being a mentor does not have to take up a lot of extra time.  Like many schools, my school has collaborative planning built into the school day.  I have worked it out so that I can use this time to help my mentees plan lessons at least once a week.  I do liberally give out my phone number and since I have a forty minute commute home, my mentees take advantage of their captive audience to bounce ideas off of me, while I respond using the hands-free Bluetooth device that is attached to my radio.  I also reply to e-mails and text messages.
  • Remember That You Can't Save Them All: As much as it saddens me to see a colleague leave the profession (sometimes before the year is over), the truth is that not everyone is cut out for the job.  Remember that while you can be helpful and friendly, you can only do so much.  

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