Mentoring Matters!

Jess Ledbetter Mentoring

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Welcome 2015! If you have been thinking of ways to influence the profession in the New Year, you might consider mentoring early career teachers. I believe new teachers are key to our professional future. They have knowledge, passion for teaching, and innovative ideas at their fingertips. Experienced teachers: are you working to retain, empower, and equip these new teachers for ongoing success? Early career teachers: are you reaching out to collaborate with more experienced colleagues? I think that connections make a big difference for us all.

Statistically, new teachers are the highest attrition group in the teaching profession. Recent reports cite that 46% of teachers leave the profession within the first five years. It is estimated that teacher attrition costs $2.2 billion annually. Research suggests it takes 3-5 years for teachers to become “effective.” Having an ongoing churn of teachers leaving between 3-5 years decreases the potential effectiveness of teachers in classrooms. I think this is a problem for all educators in the profession. Experienced teachers should consider opportunities to influence new teacher retention in their own local context.

Despite the many factors of new teacher attrition, mentoring is one of the most important interventions for teacher retention. As an induction coach for first-year special education teachers, I am really passionate about equipping these teachers with effective resources, empowering them as leaders in the field, and retaining them as colleagues. When supporting new teachers, I believe it is most important to treat them as professionals right away without any stigma of being “less experienced.” New teachers need resources, but they have a lot of resources on their own! It’s all about the right balance of support and respect. I have learned many things from my early career colleagues over the years.

Over the last few weeks, I have been thinking about the important influence we all have on early career teachers. In December, we had a mid-year celebration potluck for our first-year special education teachers. We asked each teacher to invite one person (outside of induction) who had made a difference for them so far this year. It was really neat to see the different colleagues who were invited that night. As I walked around the room, I noticed the diverse crowd: fellow teachers, administrators, speech therapists, and other related services providers. None of these people had official titles as “mentors,” yet they had all taken the time to make a difference for a colleague. It made me think about the unique influence and opportunities we all have to support beginning teachers at our sites.

If you are already mentoring new teachers, pat yourself on the back. I think this is a great way to advance the profession! If you aren’t yet mentoring new teachers, consider how you might influence one or two teachers at your site. As new teachers come back from winter break, they are often near the lowest phase in first-year teaching curve: disillusionment. Be part of the rejuvenation they need to look toward next year with anticipation and excitement. We can all play a part in the lives of these important colleagues. Make 2015 a year about connections!


Dr. Jess Ledbetter teaches preschool students with developmental delays in a Title I school in Glendale, Arizona. She is a National Board Certified Teacher (ENS-ECYA), an Arizona Hope Street Group Teacher Fellow Alumni, and a Candidate Support Provider for teachers seeking their National Board Certification. She earned her doctorate in Educational Leadership and Innovation at ASU in 2016. Her mixed methods research used a Communities of Practice model as a strategy for early career special education teachers to collaborate with peers to increase their team leadership skills working with paraeducators in their individual classrooms. Dr. Ledbetter is guided by the belief that all teachers are leaders in their classrooms and possess the skills to be leaders within their schools, districts, communities, and greater context. She hopes you will contribute to the dialogue by leaving comments about your own experiences, opinions, and insights so that real-life stories from our schools can inform the policies that affect students, teachers, and their communities.

Comments 6

  1. Christine Porter Marsh

    I agree. When I was brand-new, I was blessed with three or four hardcore, unofficial mentors. I still rely on them today. I have always felt grateful to them.

    I do not “officially” mentor a new teacher, but I make sure to eat lunch everyday with the newbie in our department. Even if I feel like I need to be doing something else during lunch, I eat with her. It’s my very small way of paying back (paying forward, really) the teachers who were there for me in the beginning. In fact, that’s what one of them told me to do: I went to him one day and said, “How will I ever pay you back for all the time you’ve given me?” He said something like, “You be sure to do the same for the people behind you.” I have never forgotten that, and I take that unofficial commitment to him very seriously.

    We need to do everything in our power to keep the new ones around. I know that’s what you do everyday–in an official and unofficial capacity. Keep it up!

    1. Jess Ledbetter

      Hi, Chris! I love that you brought up the “unofficial” aspects of mentoring. In my opinion, having lunch and relationship building with less experienced colleagues is more powerful than more formal teacher/learner mentoring relationships. I believe that every single teacher can be a mentor in these informal ways. These are the things that keep us all in the job!

  2. Sandy Merz

    Like Christine, I was blessed with unofficial mentors that made a huge difference. And one of my colleagues, now in maybe her 8th or 9th year of teaching is the first to admit that she would never have made it without the help of her hall mates (who would be included in any list of the top 10 teachers ever to work at my school – and no, I don’t consider myself one of them.) Cutting mentoring programs shows a lack of foresight and like a pebble thrown into a pond sends ripples that reach far and wide.

    And mentors or coaches shouldn’t just be for new teachers. I would love to have a coach and I’m in my 28th year. Write now, with the NFL playoffs in full swing, I wonder if any franchise player for any winning team will say he doesn’t need coaching. Well, I actually I’m sure there are plenty who think that way but they’re wrong. As wrong as their counterparts in the classroom.

    1. Jess Ledbetter

      Hi, Sandy! I really like your comment about desiring coaching as an experienced teacher. I totally agree! Strangely, I think that many instructional coaches in districts think that they are providing this type of “coaching.” However, what is missing is that many districts or administrators seem to have an agenda for the coaching that should be done–rather than allowing the teacher to CHOOSE what type of coaching is desired. If we could create more teacher-directed opportunities for coaching requests, I think that instructional coaches in schools could go much, much further with staff. We should allow more teachers to go where THEY desire to go. Time to trust teachers as professionals.

  3. Linda Schow

    I believe it is a natural instinct for a teacher to nurture
    others. Currently, I am formally a mentor to one teacher. Informally, I mentor two
    others. I mentor these two teachers because they joined our school later in the
    school year instead of the beginning. Why does the district think that just
    because these teachers joined our school later in the year that they do not need
    help? All teachers in our school are SPED teachers. There is no way that even a
    veteran teacher could know district policies concerning IEPs. I love hearing
    what other teacher have to share. We all have a story to tell and we all have a
    lesson to learn.

  4. Jen R

    Hi Jess-
    Thank you for this post. You bring up an interesting piece – which makes me think it takes a school to support a new teacher. Sounds like your school or district has created a safe place for teachers and educators to grow. I love the idea of a mid-year celebration pot luck and bringing someone who has helped, supported or impacted you. I am curious how this might be expanded for all teachers, staff and students. Thanks for the ideas!

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