A Mentor’s Perspective: Don’t Cultivate an Idea Graveyard

Over the years I have mentored many pre-service and new teachers both in school and virtually. Those moments have been some of the most amazing moments of my career to date. I’m always interested in the on-campus experiences that many of these teachers are having. Ideally, pre-service and new teachers are in situations where they can grow while also having room to take risk during their own lessons. This is a must and is sadly not always the case.

As a “new to the field” teacher, I was fortunate enough to be mentored by teachers who were open to my ideas. At the same time, I was equally as open to theirs. It was a truly collaborative effort and one that I believe is a must in any mentee/mentor relationship. Coming from the higher ed circuit, one might assume that almost all new teachers are starting “in the hole” but that was not the case with me. We researched and practiced varying instructional methodologies including engaging lesson development, hands on learning, technology integration and differentiated instruction. At the same time, my on-campus mentor had what I did not have…the experience. Although our teaching styles were as different as night and day, my mentor allowed me to design my lessons however I wanted using whatever tools that I had at my disposal.

In other words, she stepped aside and allowed me to do what I felt was best even though they were vastly different from what she would have done. This was crucial to my growth as a teacher and as a future mentor.

I had a conversation with a pre-service teacher the other day and I have to admit that her situation bothered me greatly. She wanted students to use manipulatives in a lesson where manipulatives would have most certainly made a difference. Unfortunately, her mentor did not see her vision and was adamant that students were incapable of learning using the hands on tool. The suggestion was that the pre-service teacher use a worksheet instead with the hands-on tool as a teacher model only. As depressing as this is…it happens. An idea that could have truly been transformative for students was shot down before it even left the ground…dead on arrival. Against her best judgement, this pre-service teacher felt that she had no choice but to water down her ideas to fit what her mentor believed and teach a lesson that, in her words, accomplished none of her goals.

As a mentor, I could not imagine “cutting off a teacher’s feet” in this way. Even if I failed to see the vision of my mentee, I’ve learned that it is more important for them to work through their vision than it is for me to see it. I make it a rule of thumb to discuss ideas and make suggestions in obvious “managerial” places as needed.

Growth happens for all parties involved as new teachers tackle their own instructional paths with the support of the experienced teacher in the wings.

Reflection is key but open-mindedness is mandatory.


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