by J.C. Bowman
Educators must exercise a higher duty of care than most professionals. They face exposure to liability much greater than does the average citizen. Nearly every day, teachers must deal with assorted laws related to issues such as school safety, child abuse, student discipline, negligence, defamation, student records and copyright infringement. And still they must teach, in an era where school safety has taken on added importance.
Any examination of why educators choose teaching reveals a variety of purposes. Making a difference in our society, as well as in the lives of children, are two most frequently cited reasons for working in public education. I know from my own experience that one of the loneliest feelings in the world is that of being a new teacher. First year teachers are not the only people with this experience; this also includes teachers transitioning into a new school. In a world where seemingly all knowledge is found on the internet, there is still some wisdom that can only be gained through experience. A school-based mentor can provide that experience.
Research shows that employees in any field who have mentors report higher salaries, more frequent promotions, higher job satisfaction, stronger commitment to their organization and are less likely to want to leave their jobs than those without mentors. Peer relationships are often overlooked but can frequently be more beneficial to both the mentor and the mentee.
That is why it important that we develop mentor relationships in education. We encourage our members to mentor “new” teachers, and be that colleague that others can trust. Seek to be that “go to” person with whom colleagues can ask questions, vent, and learn about the school culture. Encourage teachers that no matter how embarrassed they are about a matter, you are someone they can ask. Be that colleague in your school and district others can go to for accountability and encouragement without being judged.
If one teacher decides to mentor another, practical guidelines should be determined before beginning. We suggest having regularly scheduled meetings. Each conversation should be somewhat planned, but there should be no fear of flexibility. A mentor should keep in mind the best mentor relationships are when both the mentor and mentee benefit by that relationship. Finally, avoiding gossip is imperative. There is enough gossip in schools by teachers, parents and staff. Unfortunately, there are those who enjoy keeping the most rascally reports active. A gossiper should always remember that, sooner or later, he or she may fall victim to someone else’s gossip.
Educational mentors should also remember is that “relationships require cultivation and cultivation takes time.” Participants must make an investment in order to receive the benefit that mentoring relationships can provide. No investment, no return. Mentoring relationships will require your time, energy and commitment but they can be mutually advantageous as well.
J. C. Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee.