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How can I be responsive to a beginning teacher’s needs?

As an educative mentor, you will be responding to a beginning teacher’s needs for emotional and technical support while challenging him or her to develop strong professional skills and habits.

The first year of teaching is a challenging and emotional experience for many new teachers. A study of the Santa Cruz New Teacher Project found that the experiences of beginning teachers tend to fall into predictable phases, summarized in the table below. The report is readily available.

Being familiar with this model won’t take the place of strong communication between you and a beginning teacher, but it should help you anticipate and recognize her or his needs!

The chart below provides suggestions for how you might respond to the beginning teacher’s needs as they evolve throughout the year.

Phase:

The beginning teacher might...

The mentor might...

Anticipation

(before the school year begins)

Begin the year with enthusiasm and a great deal of energy.

Have a romanticized and idealistic view of what it will mean to teach.

Try to understand the beginning teacher’s expectations.

Provide the beginning teacher with an orientation handbook.

Assist in establishing routines, initial lesson plans, etc.

Survival

(~first month)

Feel overwhelmed by the amount of work that is required, particularly in developing curriculum.

Provide information and logistical support.

Initiate and model professional conversations around topics such as planning, getting to know students, etc.

Disillusionment

Feel disappointed that initial expectations are not being met.

Question her or his own commitment and competence.

Feel run down or become ill.

Allow the beginning teacher to express frustrations.

Acknowledge that the first year of teaching is challenging. Point out what the beginning teacher has accomplished.

Focus the beginning teacher on specific areas s/he would like to improve.

Support new teacher in planning conferences, report cards, etc.

Rejuvenation

(~January)

Feel refreshed after winter break.

Begin to recognize his or her accomplishments.

Refocus on curriculum development, long-term planning and teaching strategies.

Affirm the beginning teacher’s pride in her or his accomplishments.

Take advantage of the beginning teacher’s renewed energy and work together to refine instructional skills.

Reflection

(~May)

Reflect on the highs and lows of the year.

Anticipate how s/he will teach next year.

Celebrate the beginning teacher’s accomplishments and help identify areas for growth.

Help beginning teacher set realistic goals for the upcoming year.

lResources

  • Scherer, M., (Ed.) (1999). A better beginning: Supporting and mentoring new teachers. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

References

  • Davis, B., & Gless, B. (2001). Foundations in mentoring. Santa Cruz: New Teacher Center, University of California (Santa Cruz).
  • Kortman, S. A., & Honaker, C. J. (2004). The mentor teacher: Guiding you through the mentoring process. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt.
  • Moir, Ellen. (1999). The stages of a teacher’s first year. In M. Scherer (Ed.), A better beginning: Supporting and mentoring new teachers, (pp. 11-26). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.