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New Faculty Mentoring Workshop: Looking for a few good mentoring tips

July 14, 2011

Tomorrow, I start a two-day workshop at my school for faculty mentors, where we will work together to revamp our mentoring program for new teachers. I was selected to be the mentor for our new physics teacher (who is going to be awesome). I’m trilled to be taking on this role, because my I owe my current teaching career to two incredible mentors that shepherded me through my early teaching years. My formal mentor was E, who was a true expert in teaching physics—he was the type of teacher who planned out every single day, and gave me a binder filled with activities, homework and assignments for the two physics courses I was teaching that I often clung to like a life raft. During my first few years, E and I had dozens of conversations about physics and physics teaching—I can remember discussing how wheels roll in the dining hall until well after everyone else had left. These conversations and my work with E helped me to see how much I still had left to learn in physics, and gave me motivation to learn it.

My other mentor, T, was an informal one. He and I slowly became friends over my first year of teaching, and though we didn’t teach the same subject, he was instrumental in helping me to navigate the world of boarding school procedure and politics. Never having known the world of private school, T shared countless bits of wisdom with me, including suggesting that I apply to the Klingenstein Summer Institute for new teachers, which turned out to be a pivotal moment in convincing me I wanted to be a teacher.

I now count both E and T among my very closest friends, and it’s wonderful to stay in touch with them even though we no longer teach in the same school.

As I start to think about how to be a good mentor to A, I hope I can find ways to merge the best of what I gained from both the formal mentoring of E, and the informal mentoring of T. One of the things I’m dying to do is try to get the new faculty blogging and tweeting as soon as possible, since it’s made such a difference for me. Of course, what makes a difference for me might be a waste of time for someone else, and often, when I talk about this to other faculty, they look at me like I have 4 heads or something. What do you think? Should all new faculty be encouraged to blog and tweet? And of course, I think the real key isn’t to require a new faculty member to do something (I certainly would never do this), but instead show a variety of options and ideas that have been helpful and encourage new faculty to give them a try.

And as we work to redesign this mentoring program from top to bottom, I’d like to toss the more general question out:

What are the characteristics of a good faculty mentor? What sort of structures at a school help ensure quality mentoring? What is the mentoring program at your school like?

5 Comments leave one →
  1. July 14, 2011 7:39 am

    Hey John,
    My wife did research on this for her Masters, and what she found is that what T did was most important. New teachers usually know the content, what they don’t know is the school’s procedures. Having someone to go to for the little things is what is most important. In surveying principals and veteran teachers, they thought it would be bigger things like teaching strategies and classroom management, but the new teachers themselves were more concern about the small things.

  2. July 14, 2011 8:27 am

    Structure: share an office with someone teaching the same courses!

    Characteristics: informal, daily sharing is the most important thing. Scheduled meetings to discuss “how’s it going” are artificial and stilted and not so much help. Talk through what happened in class and how it might go differently tomorrow… and then talk again the next day about how it went. This is time-intensive, but doing just about anything correctly is time-intensive.

    And thanks for being my office mate the first four years of my career!

  3. July 17, 2011 11:04 am

    Hi John,
    I remember that the thing I needed the most help with was classroom management. It may be because I did most (if not all) of my previous teaching at the college level, but it took me years and years to get that down to an art. My colleague who I also mentored also needed help with this. But again, in a non-punitive or threatening manner. Of coarse you would be non-threatening, but it really helped me that I was guided by my mentor teachers rather than the admin coming in to “help” me.
    Also echoing Scott, the little things are are just procedural at your school may be totally new to your mentee.
    Hope you have a great time mentoring! What a lucky teacher to have you as a mentor.


  1. Advice for mentors—listen and smooth out the details « Quantum Progress

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