Have you ever had a mentor? What was the greatest lesson you learned from him or her?
As a teacher you have many people who fulfil the role of mentor throughout the course of your career, and you become a mentor to others.
To begin with you’re assigned one to see you through your qualifying year. This person becomes your lifeline. The NQT year is a baptism by fire and you learn more about teaching and yourself in the first week of having your own class than you did in four years at university. This person sees you through the highs and the lows and keeps you going until you collapse in a heap at the end of July. If you’re lucky, you get a good one who can support, advise and encourage but also pick up the pieces and help you to realise why things went wrong.
After your first year, you’re off on your own. By this time you’ve worked out who will help guide and support you when you need it, but you’ve also gained some confidence and are more able to reflect on your teaching. When you change schools you are sometimes assigned someone in an informal mentoring role so that you learn how the school works and have a person you can ask questions.
Mentors can also be put in place when the leadership team consider a member of staff to be in need of a programme of support to improve their teaching. Different schools manage this in different ways; in some it’s quite dictatorial and in others it’s more of a coaching role.
Sometimes it’s not a formal role, this is the case with the person who I consider to be my main mentor; he was the head of one of the schools I worked in. He believed in me; he gave me chances, he let me make mistakes and fail and then guided me to pick up the pieces and learn from it. He mentored me from being a class teacher to taking on a considerable number of leadership and management duties. Whenever we were discussing an issue he would always ask ‘What’s going to make a difference to the children?’ This is something I continue to ask myself now whenever I’ve got a professional decision to make. It’s stuck with me as I feel that if there’s no difference for the children there’s no point in doing it; it’s why we’re there, after all.