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Supporting the Professional Growth of Novice Teachers

By: MaryBeth Crissman Date: May 24, 2016

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No one expects a college athlete to perform with the same skill, knowledge, and insight as a professional athlete who has been in the big leagues for a few years. Real-world experience is an invaluable step in learning a craft, and it’s not something that can simply be taught. One has to fully experience the trenches to learn what it takes to be at the top of his game.

Teaching is no different. Teachers spend 4 to 6 years in college, learning the fundamentals of content instruction and classroom management. After graduation and the subsequent job hunt, new teachers are thrust into a classroom and are often expected to perform at a similar level of proficiency as professional teachers who have been in the field for years or decades.

While novice teachers are often observed more frequently by administrators during the first year, there is often a lack of focused and specialized support that address the unique needs of a new teacher beyond that initial year. New teacher observation and evaluation in many districts lacks customization based on individual teacher needs and existing skill sets, and this process often emphasizes cumulative evaluation rather than instant feedback and suggestions. Some of this is due to the now sun setting rigid rules and expectations of No Child Left Behind, and some of it is due to lack of visibility of what novice teachers need.

To some districts, a teacher is a teacher, regardless of experience. But there is a growing movement across the country to develop the professional growth of novice teachers in a way that is more reflective of their special needs. One way in which districts are increasingly addressing the individual needs of novice teachers is through effective mentoring programs.

The Center for Teaching Quality (CTQ) recommends instituting an effective mentoring program for all new teachers in their first few years of service. While teachers are constantly surrounded by people, it can often feel lonely and isolated. By connecting novice teachers to proven effective professional teachers within their own building, those feelings of isolation can be transformed into opportunities for growth and development. The CTQ also makes a few recommendations for establishing a meaningful mentor-mentee dynamic. A few of their suggestions include:

1. Accept the mentor/mentee as a peer. While the mentor has more experience and wisdom than the novice teacher, it is important that both parties feel as though they are equals. Novice teachers bring a valuable set of knowledge and experience that shouldn’t be discounted because of its newness.

2. Keep confidences and build trust. A novice teacher is likely nervous and needs to feel that the mentor/mentee relationship is one built on trust and privacy. It is essential that both parties understand that what is shared during meetings is kept in strict confidence.

3. Be a friend. Let your mentor/mentee know that you actually care about them as human beings, not just as educators.

4. Observe each other. Teachers learn amazing things from watching other teachers in action, so make sure you embrace the opportunity to watch each other teach. Note the great things that are happening, and ask questions about what you didn’t understand.

With the right support and development, novice teachers can quickly become proficient professional teachers who can then share their expertise with the next generation. What is your district doing to help prepare your novice teachers?
Learn how one Florida school is helping their beginning teachers thrive. Read more on page 8 of the most recent edition of AASPA’s Perspective.

Mentoring Novice Teachers to Become Teacher-Leaders