Review: Mentoring Beginning Teachers

mentoring beginning

Mentoring Beginning Teachers: Guiding, Reflecting, Coaching by Jean Boreen et al (Stenhouse, 2009) is an excellent resource for anyone working with pre-service or new teachers. The first chapters argue for the importance of mentoring programs in supporting and retaining new teachers and prepare mentors for the task of mentoring. Then, the authors look at the topics that concern new teachers–reflection, classroom management, working with English Language Learners, curriculum mapping, working with parents/guardians, working with administrators, managing school culture–and coach mentors in how to support new teachers in these areas through different activities, conversations, and checklists.

The authors suggest that mentors should think of themselves as coaches and use coaching techniques such as asking questions, mirroring statements, and modeling to help new teachers. I know that I’m often guilty of saying something like, “Ok, here’s what I would do in that situation,” to my pre-service and student teachers when they ask for my advice. The authors rightly note that the coaching or dialogue stance is more time-consuming than holding onto the role of expert and simply telling the new teacher what you think they ought to do or what you would do in the same situation. But there is much less of an opportunity for new teachers to learn and own their learning if they think of others as the experts who have the answers.

One of my main goals in working with pre-service teachers is to help them develop the thinking habits of teachers (though I do wonder if it’s possible to even begin to do that when you aren’t actually teaching. Teaching is one of those things that you really need to do in order to learn how to do it. All the talking about it and reading about it and writing about it in the world doesn’t prepare you for the reality of being up there in front of 30 kids, who are all bringing their different needs and interests and personalities to your work. And doing it day after day after day.)

I found what this book had to say about “thinking like a teacher” especially interesting. New teachers need their mentors to coach and guide, but they also need mentors and coaches who can do what Nancie Atwell calls “taking off the top of my head”:

Beginning teachers often know how to “act” like a teacher, but they don’t always understand the internal processes necessary to “be” a teacher, to think in an ongoing way about student learning. By talking about the idea that materialized when you were in the shower, the concerns that kept nagging at you during your evening walk, or the creative strategy that occurred to you as you were driving home from school, you model the continuous nature of teacher-thinking, which doesn’t stop when you walk out the school door.

In my Methods courses and when I visit and observe student teachers, the question I ask most is “why,” and this book is full of practical guidelines and suggestions for asking that question in many, many different ways.


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