Some things you never forget. I was 21 when I got my first assignment as a fourth-grade teacher in a large Christian school in South Florida. I was 1500 miles from home and oh-so-young. My adventure was greatly enhanced because Spanish was the first language for most families at this school, and I do not speak Spanish at all. I can still feel the fear of greeting parents at that first open house. I discovered that there were a lot of things about being a teacher not covered in college even though I had a great teacher preparation program. How do I set up a gradebook? How do I convince strong-willed children to follow my lead? How do I help struggling students? How do I manage my time so that I am not living at the school? Thankfully, I had an experienced supervisor who met with me weekly and helped me master the aspects of teaching not covered in my college textbooks.
In today’s academic world, mentoring teachers is a trendy topic, likely due to the high turnover many schools are experiencing. As schools explore and expand their teaching staff, they are pulling in teachers who have never taught, teachers who have taught but not in a faith-based school, and teachers who haven’t taught in a school with an intentional curriculum. Additionally, schools that previously hired a few teachers each year may be welcoming many more than usual now. An intentional plan of mentoring is needed to ensure a successful assimilation of teachers who will join the mission of your school and be effective educators both academically and spiritually.
An effective mentoring program begins before the school year starts. Having a few days dedicated to in-service for new teachers allows a school to focus on acclimating the newbies to the school’s mission, philosophy, and procedures. Our school focuses on three areas: classroom management, biblical worldview integration, and curriculum. The “First Days of School: How to be an Effective Teacher” (Wong 1996) is a seminal resource on classroom management. To help all new teachers master the methodology for applying a kingdom-focused biblical application to lessons, we use “Making the Connections: How to Put Biblical Worldview into Practice” (Overman 2004). Both have DVDs and books. The length of the studies requires some after-school sessions in addition to the pre-service days. Having invested research and resources to strengthen our ELA and math curriculums in recent years, we also recognize the importance of on-going professional development in these areas.
We use a combination of training that we purchase from textbook publishers and in-house training given by our school (building specific) principals. (ACSI schools should note that all this training can qualify for CEUs if your school is a provider.) It takes a village, but we work to be intentional about it. Building principals handle the formal mentoring sessions; they also provide training in the use of FACTS for attendance, grading, and posting lesson plans on the LMS. As the curriculum director, I guide teachers in applying for required credentials and getting acquainted with how to use Curriculum Trak. I also get our new teachers connected to and familiar with all the websites that are tied to our curriculum.
As of this writing, we are in week four, and the honeymoon period is definitely over! The workload has caught up to the new teachers. This is a key time for us as mentors to swoop in with encouragement and advice. If your school hired veterans who came from the public sector, they will need to be coached in how to see all lessons through a biblical lens first. Faith-based schools all have families on a continuum of conservatism. It takes experience to anticipate what might seem offensive to some. While our tenth-grade world history teacher caught the need to renounce something that was offensive to minorities in the first chapter, the English teacher needed coaching before using a suspenseful short story that includes an evolutionary view of the earth’s age and the demise of dinosaurs. Veterans of faith-based teaching must realize that what comes naturally to them is not obvious to new teachers.
Some teachers need advice on managing their workloads. They may be trying to do too much, have unrealistic expectations about homework and grading, or be struggling to manage all the teaching resources they have. Principals and curriculum directors need to visit classrooms during lessons and after school to catch these needs and offer solutions. You can also tell a lot about how things are going by looking at web-based gradebooks. An abundance of grades that are either very high or very low (even failing) may signal a need for coaching. Using the questioning approach will be less confrontational. Ask teachers how they think it is going. Prompt them to give details by saying, “Can you please tell me more?” (Our administration and support staff participated in Bob Tiede’s “Leading with Questions” training this past summer to develop better communication skills.)
We cannot fix every problem or eliminate all the work that goes with being a teacher. On the other hand, we don’t want new teachers to be exhausted, discouraged, and disheartened. Sometimes I just pop into a room after school and ask, “Is there anything you need?” Often there is a simple problem I can easily solve, and teachers feel supported when someone checks on them. This is an example of “bearing one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2).
I believe prayer also has a significant place in mentoring. One of my favorite verses since childhood is Jeremiah 33:3. “Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.” Have you prayed for new teachers by name and need? Better yet, have you prayed with them? When someone comes to your office with a question or concern, don’t let them leave without praying for them first. This is one of the greatest tools we have as faith-based educators. May we all grow together as we minister this year.