When we teach a student a new skill in math, for example, subtraction with regrouping, do we send her off to practice a page of similar problems immediately after the first lesson? No, of course not. Why is that? You probably answered that we don’t want her to practice incorrectly and develop bad habits. Because it is extremely difficult to undo misconceptions, we use an instructional technique called guided practice. In other words, we let the student practice under our guidance so we can immediately step in and correct mistakes. This is a more effective use of our time in the long run, and it sets the student up for success. Face it, nobody likes being told they’re doing something wrong and have to fix it! Do we, however, use this same principle with new teachers on our campuses?
Each year, nearly all campuses experience turnover. Some of the incoming teachers are fresh off the college campus, some come to us via alternative certification programs, and some are veteran teachers. When you think about it, however, we actually hire teachers with very limited information. Of course, there is an interview process and we check references, and some schools have job candidates teach model lessons. But it’s kind of like taking a new car off the lot–no matter how good the test drive was, you don’t really know how the car performs until you’ve driven it for a few weeks.
Research tells us that teacher quality is the most important factor for a child’s success. Doesn’t that make teacher quality an administrator’s number one priority? And if we follow that line of thinking, who better to mentor new teachers on a campus (whether rookie or veteran) than administrators? As teachers, we spend the first 4-6 weeks establishing routines and expectations in our classrooms. How powerful would it be if administrators spent the first 4-6 weeks of school partnering with the new teachers on a campus–visiting their classrooms, meeting to discuss questions and concerns or to debrief lessons, and basically just supporting them. A period of guided practice…for teachers. New teachers wouldn’t have the chance to develop bad habits, and it would be immediately apparent if new veteran teachers share the instructional philosophy of the campus or if they might need some additional direction.
What are your thoughts? As a teacher, would you feel supported by having an administrator as a mentor? Administrators, is this doable? Add a comment and let’s get a good conversation going!