There is a multitude of research out there about teacher retention, but one common theme permeates them all. This is the need for new teacher mentoring. Ideally, each district would set up a protocol for pairing experienced and novice teachers to provide the support needed for a new teacher to feel comfortable and competent in the classroom. However, mentoring can occur at the building level if a district program is not in place. Experienced teachers on staff can be the mentors that new teachers in the building need. What should mentors do, you wonder?
In trainings I have been a part of over the last two years, I have learned a lot of information about how to support the teachers I mentor. I am still working on putting these skills into effective practice, but what I have found is that our new teachers need to be heard. There are a lot of frustrations in our profession that they are encountering for the first time. Some things can feel overwhelming and almost debilitating. Having a listening ear of someone who is genuinely interested in how they are doing and feeling gives new teachers a sense of connection, which is one of the top issues in teacher retention. If a new teacher is not feeling connected to his or her staff and school community in some way, then he or she is more likely to leave.
In addition, new teachers need someone to come in and observe their practice in a non-evaluative way. This is not to critique what is being done wrong, but to praise the things they are doing right. Another issue high on the list for retaining teachers, is giving them a sense of purpose. By going into the classroom and encouraging those best practices, teachers can see the impact they are having and remain encouraged in the work they are doing. Then conversation can be directed in ways to help new teachers identify other strategies and skills that can be used to bring out the best in students. This will create challenge in the work they do and give them the purpose that will continue to keep that desire to work with children present.
Another area new teachers need assistance in is simply navigating the system. Whether this is how to request curriculum or register for professional development. I have worked most recently in helping my mentees write their goals for our district’s evaluation process. Some of these things that seem natural to experienced teachers are cumbersome and confusing to our new teachers and need to be explained and demonstrated for them to understand important procedures, such as those that make sure they get paid.
Interactions with a mentee should be very regular. I have found with my own mentees that weekly check-ins, at the very least, keep the relationship we have forged intact. Whether you mentor a new teacher in a formal program or an informal situation, the experience is rewarding for both people involved. The new teachers feel that connection and purpose provided through a caring relationship, but they also bring their own excitement and energy to the job that inevitably rubs off and reflects in our own practice.