New Teacher Mentoring: Ready for a Work Mom?
By Amber Chandler
Ask any teacher, and they can probably recall their first year of teaching with vivid clarity. Many remember the excitement of their own classroom, the thrill of their first paycheck, and maybe even some of their students.
We tell these stories to new teachers we meet, but just like the world of social media where we put our best foot forward, we leave out the challenging parts.
We leave out the feelings of fear. We leave out the moments when we suffered from imposter syndrome, hoping we were “real teachers.” We leave out the misgivings that we might have felt, wondering if teaching was really all it was cracked up to be.
We don’t mention those things, right? We don’t want to scare them off. We keep our “war stories” to ourselves. In my new book, Everything New Teachers Need to Know But Are Afraid to Ask, I take a run at helping new teachers through their first experiences with frankness and encouragement. When I set out to write this book, I wanted to share those little pieces of wisdom and advice that come with experience, but in a way that respects the journey new teachers will take.
Morphing from “Work Mom” to Mentor
I’ve mentored a dozen teachers over the past twenty years, and a few have become dear friends. Two years ago I mentored a woman named Nicole who immediately became a part of my inner circle. Within weeks she was calling me her “work mom,” and after the shock wore off that I was, indeed, old enough to be her mom, I realized what a tremendous compliment it was.
My interactions with Nicole over that next year or so directly resulted in the new book. I frame much of it as a “work mom” who is on your side, pulling for you, cheerleading from the sidelines. I found myself quite comfortable with the mothering role, and it has served both of us well.
Another aspect of mentoring
As a union president of over 450 teachers, with 45 of them being new this year and 32 last year, I am in a unique position to write about other angles, ones that nobody ever shares. What happens when you are called into a meeting? What if it is disciplinary? What if a parent is attacking you on social media? What if a student is harassing you?
From the union president’s angle, I provide practical, actionable steps to handle some of the most unpleasant parts of teaching. This angle is part cautionary tale, part new teacher handbook.
Each chapter has a section at the end called “Mentoring Moments.” This is meant to guide discussions between mentor and mentee. I’ve framed these questions in a way that is colleague to colleague, as good mentoring is about relationships, not a power structure. The new teacher has much to learn from the veteran one, but I emphasize how the new teacher can positively influence those of us who have been around for a while.
For mentoring to work, there must be a core understanding that both parties are learning together. One of the worst things that can happen to a new teacher is to be paired with someone who only sees their flaws, their deficits, and their youth. Instead, this book helps foster the nurturing relationship that is necessary for a successful pairing.
I’m looking forward to many conversations. I’d like to share an excerpt from the first chapter, “You’re Hired, Now What?”:
The reason I am writing this book is to do everything in my power to prevent you from making the “rookie mistakes” that can at the very least sap your energy, most definitely make you question yourself, and at worst truly mess up your career. There are simply too many decisions and scenarios that are unique to expect that I’ll cover them all, but I’ll try to cover the most prevalent ones. In this chapter, we will focus on the month immediately after you are hired. This is the point in time when tricky decisions are being made, and you simply don’t know what you don’t… Here we go–you’re hired. Now what?
Please reach out to me in the comments, and I’ll get in touch with you! I don’t know all there is to know about teaching, but I’ve been though many eras and come out the other side. I started my teaching career without a computer, without all of the facts of the world in our hands, and without social media. It was, truly, a different time.
However, I had my mentors who helped me navigate the pitfalls that faced me. I’d love to answer any questions you might have.
Amber Chandler teaches 8th grade ELA at Frontier Middle School along with courses at Canisius College. In addition, she is an NBCT and a trainer who leads workshops and blogs for ShareMyLesson, AMLE and AFT. She serves as president of the Frontier Central Teachers’ Association. Amber was the AMLE 2018 Educator of the Year and a finalist for New York State 2022 Teacher of the Year. Her Flexible Classroom articles for MiddleWeb are here.
In addition to Everything New Teachers Need to Know But Are Afraid to Ask: An Honest Guide to the Nuts and Bolts of Your First Job (Routledge, 2023), Amber is the author of The Flexible ELA Classroom: Practical Tools for Differentiated Instruction in Grades 4-8 (Routledge, 2017); The Flexible SEL Classroom: Practical Ways to Build Social Emotional Learning, 2nd edition (Routledge, 2022), and Movie Magic in the Classroom: Ready-to-Use Guide for Teaching SEL (Routledge, 2022).