The Important Role of the Mentor and Mentee Relationship

Today, I glanced back at an e-mail I received from a wonderful mentor. I felt so supported by her, and her belief in me made me better. Isn’t that what we all need? Someone to believe in us and our abilities? I believe it takes a strong person to open themselves up to support others with kind words and affirmations. I hope that I can be that kind of person to my students and fellow teachers as I begin a new school year.

There is another side to the mentor coin, however. It is great for mentors to believe in our abilities, but they must also push us to think and work smarter. They must be straight forward and specific with their advice.

I decided to add the e-mail below.not to brag about her kind words to me, but to demonstrate what I mean by mentors supporting the mentee’s journey. My mentor’s advice struck me, and has stayed with me. She began the e-mail with an affirmation as to why I was offered the teaching position, but she also went further by offering sound advice that I can use for my entire career.

Now–my job comes in. I must be open to her advice and use it, realizing the wisdom in her words. That is the job of the person receiving the mentoring.

I believe one of the best things new teachers can do is to be humble and open to the advice of more experienced teachers and administrators.We can only serve to grow from it whether we like the advice or not.

Humility is not cowardice. Meekness is not weakness. Humility and meekness are indeed spiritual powers.

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 E-mail from a wonderful mentor–I’ve highlighted the advice all teachers can learn from.

Congratulations!!!  Your skills, personality, character, intelligence, and poise made you the person for the job!  I think you will love Heard County.  It is a unique place with wonderful people.
Early in my career a mentor told me to “always be a company man”  or woman.  I took that to heart and always positively supported the administration and kept any criticism or skepticism to myself.   A positive, loyal, agreeable employee always stands out among the burned-out and looking-toward retirement crowd….usually a big crowd!  (Sometimes that translates into something as simple as eye contact and a smile for the speaker in a faculty meeting….rather than eye-rolling.)   I think that attitude and behavior helped me move into administration.  You have great potential to move ahead in your career! 
Please don’t take this as criticism.  I know that you know this and would never do such, but many teachers overlook this simple strategy of being professional even when they don’t feel it…..and wonder why they are overlooked for promotions or recognition.
Congratulations and keep me posted,
Joy

Another article for new teachers concerning the mentor/mentee relationship.

“Mentors: The One You’re Assigned and the Ones You Find”

The transition to any new job can be tough, but especially a job as isolating as teaching can be. That’s why it’s great when schools assign veteran teachers to serve as mentors for new teachers. It’s also great that so many veteran teachers are willing to be mentors–often with little or no additional pay.
At the same time, I’ve noticed that an assigned mentor is rarely able to meet all of a mentee’s needs. This isn’t a reflection on the mentor, but rather a limitation of mentor-mentee relationships in general and in the context of teaching in particular.
Worst-case scenario, a mentor and mentee don’t connect well and, after a few uneasy–and usually unproductive–sessions, reach an unspoken agreement to stop meeting. In other cases, the chemistry is fine, but schedules prevent mentors and mentees from meeting regularly.
Yet even when a mentor and mentee click and meet often, there are still bound to be certain mentee needs that the mentor is unable to fulfill. Again, not a reflection on the mentor but a reality of the multi-faceted responsibilities and challenges of teaching. Classroom management. Curriculum and instruction. Technology integration. Record-keeping. Parent relations. Assessment. Bureaucracy. How could one teacher be the go-to person for everything?!
That’s why it’s important, new teachers, to create a network of mentors rather than just rely on that one person who has been assigned to look out for you. And though I’m a big fan of using social media and other outside resources to build your Professional Learning Network (PLN), you’ll want to build the network I’m talking about within your school–where you can get timely support and advice from colleagues who have the context for understanding your challenges.
As for what to look for in a mentor, it’s common to be drawn toward others who are most like you–gender, age, race, ethnicity, subject matter, outside interests, etc. But limiting your outreach like this can be a mistake. I’ve especially noticed this when new teachers only reach out to colleagues who have a year or two of experience themselves. It’s fine to connect with colleagues who’ve recently experienced the same challenges you’re now facing. Just be sure to also connect with others who’ve been confronting–and meeting–those challenges for years.
My own mentoring network as a new teacher included an assigned mentor and five colleagues I sought out after noticing the pride and professionalism they brought to their work. And none of them had a personal or professional background that resembled mine. What’s more, other than two fellow math teachers, they were all in different positions than I was–most notably, the school’s community outreach coordinator, Michael, an alumni of the school who still lived in the neighborhood. No one helped me understand my students and their families as much as Michael did.
One thing all my mentors had was the character needed to achieve lasting success as an urban educator. This doesn’t mean they were all thriving in their jobs at the time. In fact, three of them–all teachers with over 25 years of experience–expressed frustration to me over being less effective then than they had been earlier in their careers. But you can learn as much from people when they’re struggling as you can when they’re succeeding. Such was the case for me with these teachers, all of whom took ownership of their struggles and responded with persistence and optimism. They were open-minded too, often soliciting my suggestions for solutions to their challenges.
As a group, my mentors helped me deal with the multi-faceted responsibilities and challenges of teaching I referred to above. Yet I’m as grateful to them for what they represented to me as I am for what they did for me. They were great mentors because they were great models. And without their support and guidance, I would never have achieved the fulfillment I’ve enjoyed as an educator the past 18 years.
I wish you similar support and guidance in the coming year–from the mentor you’re assigned and the ones you find.

Image by Ciklamen, provided by Dreamstime license
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