Mentoring Matters, Interview with a Mentor

“Who are your mentors?  What do you seek from your mentors?” was the big theme of chapter 1, and this week’s assignment.  I appreciated the way the chapter was written, in the sense that it reminded us that the point of mentors isn’t to teach us how to do our “formal roles,” but rather, mentors help us grow in ways that we want to, and need to develop.  Chapter one is dedicated to using the expertise of mentors. In it, I was reminded of the fact that as teachers we are expected to wear many hats during various times of the day; it is indeed a pressure-filled job. We all need a safe haven to head towards from time-to-time and connecting with mentors can be that safe haven.  When I started teaching at my new school, I was assigned a peer coach.  This mentor ended up becoming my best friend.  I have learned so much from her, in terms of teaching, but one of the most valuable things about our relationship is that she’s really there to LISTEN.  As we wear these many hats throughout the school year, we need help.  We need someone to read the email we’re about to send, even though we know it’s probably not a good idea.  We need someone to talk to about a lesson that completely flopped, or an evaluation that we received.  Most importantly, we need someone to talk us off the ledge on those days that we want to scream, give up, and quit the profession (come on, we’ve all been there!)

Most helpful for me in this chapter was the section about finding mentors.  Someone who has always been a rock for me has been my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Ashbrook.  Mrs. Ashbrook retired when I was in college, and she called me up to come sift through her teaching materials before she threw things away.  To this day a handful of my posters, math manipulatives, and books came from my own sixth grade classroom!  Although Mrs. Ashbrook has always been a role model in teaching, I recently reached out to a third grade teacher who I work with, to ask her to be my mentor.  I like her teaching style, and I really like the product of the children I get from her when they come up to fourth grade.  Looking at this through a different lense, I started by asking myself (with the help of our first chapter):

“What am I curious about in my field?”

“What are my students interested in that I would like to know more about?”

and

“What am I already doing that I’d like to get better at?”

As a teacher I get into my routine.  I get into auto pilot and turn to my last years lessons and since they worked then, I do them again…I know that this is a flaw, as in order to be the most effective teacher, we must teach to our unique individuals in front of us.  I am curious about technology.  My students are eager to use more technology, and, I know there are so many great tech tools out there that could enrich my lessons!

What I admire most about Ashley is that she keeps her classes new and exciting.  She does this mostly through the use of technology.  I want to integrate technology with ease, like Ashley does.  This year Ashley was our buildings “tech tutor.”  I attended most of her sessions, and she taught me about so many ways to use tech in a subtle and effective way. I learned about Tech Tools to support ELL’s, (which was huge for me this year because I had a Non-English speaking student).  As the year went on I found myself going to Ashley on a regular basis to ask her about new programs that she knows about.  She showed me so many great resources.  I knew that she had experience using them, as she attends workshops and trainings frequently about the new programs.  Most notably, Ashely and I are currently working closely as she teaches me how to integrate technology a formative assessment tool.  One things I notice about Ashley is that she doesn’t sit and correct tons of papers.  Truthfully, with all the tech out there no teachers should bogged down by all the PAPERWORK when life is going in the direction of computers.  Still, though, we are sitting with stacks and stacks on our desks.  I went to Ashley mid-year with this concern of mine, and she’s been showing me (slowly, since she knows I am easily overwhelmed) ways that I can turn to programs to help me assess my kids.  Over the next several weeks I will create blog posts sharing with YOU what Ashley is teaching ME about tools such as EdPuzzle, WebAssign, Activity Learn, etc.

One of our articles this week through Blackboard was a link to “Alone in the Classroom…Why teachers are so isolated.”  I made a connection to this article.  Being that there is one of me and twenty four students, I spend most of my (very little) “spare time” behind my desk, plugging away at grading, emailing, planning, assessing, etc.  It is very rare for me to sit back and enjoy lunch with my teammates without a list in my mind, running over and over.  In his classic 1975 book, Schoolteacher, Dan Lortie described teacher isolation as one of the main structural impediments to improved instruction and student learning in American public schools. Lortie argued that since at least the 19th century teachers have worked behind closed doors, rarely if ever collaborating with colleagues on improving teaching practice or examining student work. “Each teacher,” Lortie wrote, “… spent his teaching day isolated from other adults; the initial pattern of school distribution represented a series of ‘cells’ which were construed as self-sufficient.”

I found it shocking, and alarming, that teachers only collaborate with one another for 3% of the day.  Some days, I certainly find myself to be falling in the statistic.  I must say, since starting Grad School there are days where I barely interact at all with another adult. I am so bogged down with work that I close my door and try to get as much of my work done as possible so that I don’t have to go home and put in another four or five hours.  Teaching is a very, VERY stressful job.  Just when one day ends, another begins and so the planning and preparation never stops.  This article was very powerful, as I agree with the power of collaboration.  I wish I had more time in my day (and less assignments on my behalf) to work with my colleagues.

Lastly, this week one of the articles we were given was about teacher statistics.  Specifically, about teachers who do not have mentors.  The study showed that those who don’t have mentors leave the field sooner than those that are in connection with somebody.  I know if I didn’t make such a strong connection with my colleagues, my chances of leaving the school I am at would be much greater.  In my case, my biggest struggle right now with education is the demands put on me.  As I mentioned above, the fact that ten plus hours a week are demanded of me through my grad classes, I feel completely drained every single day.  The work just never ends.  My mentor, Ashley, has noticed my stress this year, and it is our goal that with the increase in online formal assessment I will feel less overwhelmed with all of the grading.  Hopefully that will open up some time for me to be in greater connection with my students, and my colleagues.

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