Mentor Recalls Own First Year

Testimonial: A Mentor Reflects on His Own First Year as a Teacher

by David N.

I spent much of my senior year in college anticipating my first year of teaching where I would no longer be plagued with the anxiety which results from college exams and searching for a job. Soon after I accepted my first teaching position I learned just how stressful it is to be a rookie teacher.

Until one experiences it, one can’t know the impact of three different preparations, the responsibility of being a role model, or the implications of being on nontenured status with no job security. I was an intimidated and frightened first year teacher, embarked on a year-long test consisting of ten formal evaluation visits by administrators. No matter how reassuring and supportive these administrators appeared during that first month, I knew that they were the critics and I was the performer.

Seven years later, I am now a mentor at the same high school where I teach English and serve as Sophomore Team Leader. I feel I have grown tremendously as a teacher, much of that growth occurring during my first year which culminated in my receiving an award for outstanding first year teachers in Illinois. A great deal of that success my first year can be attributed to the Mentor Teacher Program in my district.

I recall feeling a sense of panic during orientation when we were told that all first year teachers would begin an evaluation cycle of ten observations as soon as October and that each administrator follows a systematic form for evaluation. My fears were quickly eased as I was paired with my mentor and he helped to acclimate me to the school, to administrative procedures, and to teaching strategies and the curriculum.

By the third week my mentor and I had planned a sequence that would help me to become more comfortable with observations and evaluations. First I observed my mentor teaching his class and we talked about his methods and decisions. This was followed by a mock evaluation cycle with my mentor taking the administrator role in an observation and conference on my teaching. Next my department chairman repeated the cycle with me. The simulation really helped me to prepare for my principal’s evaluation.

The most important role my mentor served was explaining the school’s philosophy of effective instruction. With the appropriate feedback, I found that new teachers can learn to demonstrate the art and science of effective teaching.

Since my first year our school’s mentor program has been improved. Now first year teachers are paired with their mentors at the start of the summer to enable preliminary discussions before school starts. Last summer my department chair hosted an informal barbecue for new staff and their mentors. Before the orientation even began, the new teachers had gained some familiarity with important issues and information.

In our mentor program once the new teacher has been led through the mock evaluation sequence, the mentor’s responsibilities are completed. Interestingly, while the formal relationship is concluded, an informal relationship often continues. Under this approach to mentoring the transition in the mentoring relationship may happen too quickly for some individuals. A partial solution to this dilemma is that throughout the school year new staff meet once a month with the assistant principal to share concerns and to continue learning about the school and the district.

My experience as a new teacher seven years ago, as a mentor today, and the experiences of the new staff we employ each year all lead me to conclude that the need for mentoring continues throughout the first full year of teaching. There are many other ways that experienced staff can assist developing teachers by serving as mentors. In my view the mentor program and the new teachers would be strengthened by making the mentors available for a longer period.