By Andrew Hawk
Teachers who are new to the field rely on mentor teachers to help them tread water during their first couple of years of teaching. Some states go so far as to train and compensate veteran teachers to help ensure that new teachers receive the mentoring they need and deserve. Whether formal or informal, this relationship is vital to the success of any new teacher. Today we will pull back another layer of adapting to life during the COVID-19 pandemic and examine how to mentor new teachers during this time.
It’s Okay to Not Have All the Answers
Right now, we are all learning as we go. Figuring out how to navigate the world—and our schools—during the pandemic is new to everyone. Veteran teachers are having to reinvent a lot of processes we have taken for granted in the past, while new teachers are trying to learn processes that are in the middle of that reinvention. If you are mentoring a new teacher, know that it is okay if you do not have an answer for every question or every circumstance that arises. Model how to be a confident professional to your mentee and how to find answers when needed.
Open Your Network
Every teacher has a network of trusted colleagues and peers. When new staff members join a building, they have to build their own network. Do what you can to help expedite this process and encourage relationship building between your mentee and your colleagues. You may find the new teacher has lot to offer to the group.
Let Them Take the Lead
Does it seem like the new teacher has a leg up on virtual education or how to remediate instruction in a socially distanced classroom? Chances are they may still have been attending college when the pandemic first started. Some of the last classes they took could have offered new strategies or information on how to operate today. Make the most of your mentee’s expertise and let them take the lead when they have knowledge to share. This will help your school while also building the new teacher’s confidence.
Help Them Focus on Positives
Assist your mentee in looking for positive things each day on which to focus. Students are still having “a-ha” moments. Teachers can still brighten a student’s day, even from a distance. Look for something positive each day and model it for your new teacher. However, also be mindful that you are likely to encounter a range of emotions including sadness, anger, anxiety, and frustration. These feelings are not out of place, particularly given our current circumstances. We need to help the people around us work through these feeling in productive ways. Acknowledging that it is okay to experience a range of emotions is a good first step.
Teach Them It’s Okay to Say No
It is a little-talked-about fact that veteran teachers tend to let a lot of extra work fall on new teachers’ plates. Extra duties and club sponsorships are just two examples of new activities that seem to end up being handled by new teachers (when a new teacher is available). I remember my first year of teaching and how I quickly became the coach of the school’s math team and the assistant chairperson of the Response to Intervention Team. I was also handed the task of scheduling all of my grade level’s field trips for the year. Be sure the new teacher you are mentoring knows it is okay to say no to some of these things or to ask for support. Especially right now, we all seem to find ourselves with more responsibilities than usual, and we all need to be mindful of keeping workloads as fair as possible.
Talk Through How You Used to Do Things
My school is not taking any field trips this year. We are not hosting any community nights or any awards programs. One problem with this is that I have a first-year teacher who will miss out on the planning aspect of these events. Make a list of things like this and talk your new teacher through each process. At the very least, this will offer the new teacher knowledge and information they can tap into in the future when such activities return.
Check In Regularly
Teaching is an emotionally taxing career. The stress added by the COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded this truth. Even before the pandemic, I always told first-year teachers that their first year would be the best and worst year of their career. New teachers are still building the emotional stamina required to teach, and it is very possible that now, especially, new teachers will quickly find themselves emotionally exhausted. Check in regularly with your mentee and encourage them to find ways to decompress and recharge.
Stay healthy, everyone!
Andrew Hawk has worked in public education for 18 years. He started as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He completed his bachelor’s degree in elementary education at Indiana University East in Richmond, Indiana. Andrew has taught first, second, and fifth grades as a classroom teacher. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University. Andrew has worked as a resource room teacher and also has taught in a self-contained classroom for students on the autism spectrum. In 2017, he earned a master’s degree in educational leadership, also from Western Governor’s University. This is Andrew’s first year as a building principal. He is the principal of an elementary school that houses kindergarten through fifth grades. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with this wife and two daughters.
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