Always a Mentee, Always a Mentor

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This year, I‘m in a new school, in a new role. This September, every school day, I’m trying to figure out where my class is suppose to be and what and how I need to teach my students with special education needs. I am gradually learning the names of my colleagues but it seems like I can only get either their first name or the last name – I cannot put the person’s whole name together. My role in this special education classroom involves using a very prescribed program to support struggling readers and I’m still figuring it out.

And our school went through re-org (reorganization). This meant redoing class lists and changing rooms. The first week of school, my room 204 was organized and I had my bulletin boards decorated. After spending two and half weeks setting it up, I had to change rooms. Really? I moved all my stuff to room 102, redoing the bulletin boards and redoing the schedule so my students and I know where and when we are suppose to be.

You’d think this would not be a challenge for me as I am in my 18th year of teaching. But every time I take on a new role, I start all over again. Why do I do this? Because every time I take on a new role, I learn, a lot.

This year, my colleague and mentor, DHS, has been wonderful in supporting me through my transition into the school and into my program. Her contemplative stance has helped me work out various decisions and challenges. She also helped me set up my newly located classroom.

Over the past 18 years, I have been a mentee and mentor. I am a big believer in “Paying it Forward”.

My first teaching mentor was AT. She was my first practicum teacher and I was very fortunate to work with her as a grade level teaching partner. AT welcomed me into teaching with an open heart and a guiding hand. She showed me how to teach and I still use what she taught me today. I’ve had other mentors who were not teachers. My Vice Principal, AMW, walked me through a new program that I started in our school. The best part of AMW was that she was straightforward with me and challenged me in areas where I needed to grow. AMW was and is a great listener and guide.

At about my 7th year of developing my teaching practice, I became a mentor to other teachers. As a mentor to another teacher, I quickly realized that this mentoring process was not about me and my success but about my mentee and their success. I’ve mentored many teachers formally and informally.

My first “official” NTIP (New Teacher Induction Program) mentee was BT. He was a grade 8 Math and Science teacher, like me. After a couple of weeks of teaching grade 8, he was going to quit teaching. He told me (his words) “I did not give up going into the tech sector to deal with this stuff” – he actually used another  word.  I still remember him pulling up a chair directly in front of my desk and putting his head in his hands. I listened to him talk about the challenges of teaching grade 8 – which can be many and very disconcerting to a grade 8 teacher. BT was ready to jump off the teaching wall in this first month of teaching. I talked him off the wall. We spent time planning and working together – he got through the year without having to take a leave of absence or worse, quitting teaching. I knew he was going to be a great teacher because he was upset and cared about his work. Today, BT is a great teacher. When I saw him recently, I was so proud for his success.

I’ve also informally mentored Long-term Occasional teachers. HK was teaching grade 8  Math and Science. My Vice Principal asked me to help her as she needed collegial support.  Unfortunately, at that time, occasional teachers did not have access to NTIP support. HK was dealing with similar challenges I had faced (and BT had faced) as a grade 8 teacher. HK was a highly skilled and dedicated new teacher that was driven to make a difference in her students’ lives. We spoke often and met every week at a well known coffee location. There were tears and many stories. It was a tough cohort year of grade 8s in our school. She made it through and has gone on to be a very strong and dedicated teacher. I am very proud of how well she has done in her career.

I’ve mentored other teachers too. One teacher came from South Africa and was looking for Canadian experience. She spent time in my grade 7 classes, learning how we teach in Ontario. I directed her towards many resources she used for courses she needed to upgrade her credentials. To my delight, she ended up getting a full time teaching position a year later.

More recently, I mentored a newly graduated teacher, who helped out in my contained special education class. SM was keen, very well qualified (i.e. she had French) and working two jobs. She was a natural when working with my academically challenged students. She ended up volunteering in a French class at our school and then landed a full time teaching position.

After many positive and fulfilling experiences, I continue my career as a mentee and as a mentor. It’s part of our teaching practice and it’s part of our career path. We are teachers for our students and our colleagues.

And even as an 18 year plus teacher, I thank my colleagues for all the mentorship, collaboration, and support they continue to give me, every day.

I believe that when working collaboratively, teachers are better together.

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston

Partnering for Success Getting the most from Ontario’s New Teacher Induction Program: A Resource Handbook for Mentors

Ontario Teacher Federation: Survive & Thrive

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The Author

Deborah Weston

I love teaching and have been practicing for over 18 years in the Peel DSB. I have taught grades 2 through to grade 8, including split and contained Spec Ed classes. I am an advocate for issues on Workplace Health & Safety, Special Education, Mental Wellness, LGBTQT, and FNMI. I believe that when working collaboratively, teachers are better together. In 2015, I earned my PhD in Education Policy and Leadership with a focus on teacher collaboration and policy implementation. Follow me on Twitter @dr_weston_PhD

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