10 tips for working with your mentor

1. Find out who the mentor program coordinator in your district is as soon as you are hired. Sometimes it is a superintendent, other times it could be a guidance counselor, director, or a liaison the district has hired to run the mentoring program.  Keep this person informed about how your mentoring is going.  Since a mentor is usually paired with a new teacher in the same licensure area, you may find that, despite teaching the same material, you may not be a perfect match personality-wise.  This is when you want to speak with the district mentor coordinator about the possibility of finding a new mentor.  You want your relationship to be strong and positive from the start.  If things don’t feel right to you, don't wait; ask to be reassigned as soon as possible.

2. First impressions are everything. Make an outstanding one with your mentor.  If you are scheduled to meet at 3, be there at 2:45.  Write down questions beforehand so you don't forget to ask them.  Ask your mentor if he or she has any questions about you.  Keep your conversations professional by avoiding the negative and gossipy kinds of dialogue that can sometimes overrun the teacher's room. 

3. Meet regularly! Not during the four minutes between classes, not on the way to the bathroom, but for a sustained period of time.  Set up a standing appointment.  You will always have something to discuss!

3. Ask your mentor to observe you teaching a lesson.  Give your mentor some specific aspect of the lesson to watch so he or she can provide constructive feedback.

4. Observe your mentor. After all, this is an experienced teacher and you will definitely benefit from watching a veteran teacher in the classroom.

5. Log everything. Take copious notes when you meet with your mentor, and if you need to submit paperwork or a product to your district, make copies of the items for your own records.  New teachers typically move from district to district a lot in their first three to five years—if you don't have documented proof that you've been part of a mentoring program someplace else, you may find yourself required to participate again. 

6. Connect with other new teachers and find out how their mentoring is progressing.  Many districts now have formal guidelines as to what mentors and new teachers should be doing during their contact time.  If you sense that things are strikingly different between what you have been doing and what other new teachers have been doing, you might consider speaking with the mentor program coordinator in your district and asking some follow-up questions.

7. Take licensure advice from your mentor with a grain of salt: Odds are your mentor is a veteran teacher who is following DOE guidelines that are very different from yours.  So many requirements have changed in the past five years that it is very unlikely your mentor is abreast of all of them.  Save yourself time and panic and review these materials from  the Center for Education Policy and Practice (CEPP) at MTA.  These people work tirelessly to stay on top of educator regulation changes; they know best.

8.  Your mentor is not there to evaluate you.  Share your successes and your difficulties.  This person has probably experienced it all before.  Your mentor can help you to celebrate those lessons and activities that go well and can also offer advice on how to remedy those moments of distress.

9.  Discuss procedures with your mentor well in advance of the activity.  By this I mean field trips, parent conferences, report cards, and all of those other things that happen during the school year.  You can ask your mentor to read some of the report card comments you have written to give you feedback, help you plan your first field trip, etc.

10.  Although on some days it might seem impossible, always put on a happy face.  Everyone in school (students, teachers, parents, administrators, support staff) will respond so much better to someone with a smile on their face than a frown. The bottom line is to develop a strong collegial relationship with your mentor.  Try to learn everything you can from this person.  Chances are, your mentor will learn some new things from you, too!

--Tips by Ryan Hoyt, fifth grade teacher, Waltham; and Tim Sheehan, second grade teacher, Amherst-Pelham