I remember my first year as a teacher with such clarity it could have been last week … instead of 2007. I had a lot of confidence going into the year, but that soon dissipated as I faced unexpected challenges from students and parents. I was so thankful to be surrounded by colleagues (all of whom were veteran teachers) and an administration who supported me and helped me learn how to teach. A few years later, when I felt I had my feet firmly under me, I promised myself to look out for other new teachers and provide them the support I had received. By this time I was in a different school with a different climate from that first experience. And thus began my journey into mentoring and coaching.
Maybe you have future goals of being an instructional coach or an administrator and supporting a new teacher excites you. Maybe those words – mentoring, coaching – sound like you’re signing up for something more intense than you can handle. As educators, we’ve come through some challenging years recently, and it is important for us to maintain our own energy and focus. However, if you feel you have your feet firmly under you, I encourage you to look out for a new-teacher neighbor (or hallmate). You have experience and expertise to share. Especially if they’re on your team, supporting them will make your team strong. And a strong, collaborative team serves all kids well.
“You have experience and expertise to share. Especially if the new teacher is on your team, supporting them will make your team strong. And a strong, collaborative team serves all kids well.”
Helping your neighbor can take on a variety of forms. There are low-intensity, low-commitment ways to support as well as more time-intensive methods. Here are some ideas to help you get started:
Stop by regularly to ask how things are going, do they have any questions, anything you can help with. This may be the opening to more intense support, but it’s also something we can all do as a baseline.
Offer Hands-On Help:
You know this – sometimes the biggest help is just help with getting things done. Whether it’s grading a short stack of papers, stapling a border, cutting out game pieces or running their copies when you run yours, new teachers will appreciate this quick and tangible assistance.
Support the Firsts:
Be there to walk through the attendance system, how back-to-school night is handled, entering report cards and expectations around comments, parent-teacher conferences, fire drills, the first call/email/text to a parent, etc. Being aware of when these “milestones” occur and lending support or doing them side-by-side can ease a new teacher’s anxiety – and perhaps ward off 99 questions later.
Provide a Listening Ear:
Build trust with your neighbor by being willing to listen – about their life, their students, their planning frustrations. Sometimes we just want to talk to someone. Learn to discern, when to listen, and when to provide advice.
Sometimes your neighbor will let you know they’d like your help in solving a challenge. Stay solution-oriented. New teachers need to know they have a partner who can help them work towards a positive outcome, not someone who will fan the flames of disgruntlement and leave them with the same challenges they first had.
Be a Buddy Teacher for Students:
Most new teachers will struggle with classroom management. And we’ve all had students who benefit from being in an alternative space for a short period of time. Provide a welcoming space for their students when they need that time-out.
Invite them to join you when you’re planning lessons for the week. They can benefit from seeing your process as well as share new ideas that will help to invigorate your own teaching.
“The bigger mistake is being afraid to say ‘yes’ to the idea of intentionally reaching out to your new-teacher neighbor.”
All of these ideas can happen as frequently as you want them to. Offer the time and support you can. Don’t be afraid to say “no” to an ask. The bigger mistake is being afraid to say “yes” to the idea of intentionally reaching out to your new-teacher neighbor. I have benefited greatly from my time supporting Katie, Gabby, Scott, and more. As you nurture and support these new teachers, you’ll soon have everyone in the building asking, “Won’t you be my neighbor?”