When I first began in education, my mentor was a lead teacher, who received a few dollars to show me around the school. His mentoring amounted to, “Here’s the stockroom, if you take anything, write it down, or Betty will have your head! And on this shelf you’ll find all of our filmstrips. If you can’t find one on a topic you need, come see me, it’s probably in my room. Remember that filmstrips are your friends.” After that, I only saw him at lunch. I do know that his room was always dark, with kids asleep to the humming of the filmstrip projector.
I think most mentoring programs still set up one educator as mentor for one or more new teachers. Mentoring teachers get to know the new teacher(s), go over school and district procedures, present best practice ideas, and help with lesson building. The idea is a good one, but it relies on the abilities and expertise of that mentor teacher. What if the mentor teacher is a direct-teaching pro, who stands in front of the room lecturing, or sits at a desk the entire class time, or worse, is a teacher who is fearful of technology, or never has a thought to connect technology with teaching, or students with technology for learning?
If the mentoring isn’t a well-rounded approach, even new teachers, who had pre-service teaching with technology training at university, may not have a chance to try out those possibilities in practice. They will tend to do what they observe, and those observations may only be of their mentor teacher. So, at the beginning of a career, the new teacher’s teaching mold may be cast and set.
I know that many districts are working at this, as well as new teacher evaluation processes, but I’d like to offer something simple, if it’s not being done in a school or district. Turn teacher mentoring into a team effort. Even if only two mentors make up the team, one of them should be an educator, who is a master teacher that uses technology in teaching—and with students. I don’t mean just someone, who knows how to fire up a computer, or jot notes on a whiteboard, but instead, an educator who is a teaching talent, leads and engages students in their own learning—and uses technology appropriately. The other members of the mentoring team can have other important expertise to share—and don’t get me wrong, a teacher, who teaches without technology has valuable things for a new teachers to hear. I just think that new educators need to hear teaching lessons from more than one mentor, and a team makes perfect sense. A new teacher can then add to his/her own expertise by having a larger choice of best practices and advice to choose from.