As a new hire, all Ontario teachers participate in the provincial New Teacher Induction Program (NTIP). While the specific details of NTIP vary from board to board, one common component is working with a mentor teacher to develop your professional skills.
I was fortunate to go through NTIP in a school where I had already completed a Long Term Occasional assignment. I knew the staff, and as such I had developed great working relationships with many teachers in the school. Before my principal could even ask me who I would be interested in working with, I had discussed the idea with a colleague – my teaching partner from the year before. We knew we had similar teaching styles but different strengths, so it was as much an opportunity for her to learn from me as vice versa.
In my board, we are given three release days to be divided between the NTIP teacher and his/her mentor as they choose. These days can be used for time outside the classroom for planning, time observing either the NTIP teacher or the mentor in the classroom, attending professional development opportunities, etc. It was really nice to have it be so open and undefined because it allowed us to decide what my priorities were and how we would address them.
We started with a very general question: “What am I good at?” This question would give us a starting point for discussion. My mentor had already come up with a few things areas in which she felt I was strong. I added a few more, though it was an incredibly difficult question for me to answer because I was so new. It was really beneficial to see what she considered my strengths because I hadn’t yet had a TPA, so I had never heard someone talk about my teaching skills from an outside perspective. Many of my strengths were things I had already decided were priorities.
The next question, perhaps predictably, was, “What do I want to improve?” While it’s easy to criticize your own teaching style and come up with a list several pages long, I tried to really focus on a few things I felt were particular areas of need for me. It wasn’t going to be possible to touch on all of them with our limited time, so together we decided on one thing that we could work on together. For us, that was assessment. Together we planned a unit for my class and a unit for hers, with the plan being to work together to assess students before starting the unit and again at the end. For all of the assessment during the unit, we would be flying solo (because realistically, that happens on such a daily basis that it would be impossible to do together).
We never had a chance to finish our units together because of a family emergency, but to be perfectly honest, the planning and discussion was beneficial all on its own. Just by having a frank conversation about our strengths and needs and by planning units together, I learned more in two days than I had thought I would. I’m not certain that our discussion would have been as meaningful or helpful had we not been familiar with one another already. My mentor already knew a considerable amount about my teaching style, my strengths, and my areas of need – so we were able to dive into professional discourse and develop a plan.
I suppose my point with all of this (disjointed though it may be) is to strongly encourage you to find a mentor with whom you can work in an open, candid manner. Be realistic about your expectations: you won’t be able to address everything you want to address. Most of all, have fun learning from one another!