Perhaps the greatest irony and also reward of returning to teach in my hometown was that one of my favorite childhood teachers was assigned to be my mentor. In 1992, my state required all beginning teachers be assigned a veteran teacher to act as a mentor throughout the first year of full time teaching. While this was a formal process at the time, I believe in my heart that this wonderful woman would have guided me along the path of teaching regardless, because that is the kind of a person she is.
As not only a first year teacher, but also a single parent, finances were a little tight for me back then, and those posters, name tags and stickers that elementary teachers love didn’t come cheap. No worries, Ms. D made her supply cabinet available to me. No read alouds for story time? No problem, Ms. D had a passion for books and was ever-ready to share her personal library based on the theme of my choosing.
I learned so much in that first year, because Ms. D not only shared her supplies, but her passion for teaching and guiding young minds. She was patient and tolerant as I tried various teaching strategies, and always listened to me and offered suggestions when things didn’t go exactly as planned.
Fast forward 26 years, education has changed immensely; Ms. D and many like her have retired. I often wonder how things would be different if I were that same beginning teacher in 2018, facing today’s challenges in education, without someone like her to provide guidance and expertise. To say I would struggle is an understatement. Would someone else step up and fill this void, if not assigned to? I would like to think so, but with the various demands on educators today, would I receive the targeted type of guidance I needed to grow and improve professionally?
So this is not only a tribute to one of the greatest teachers and mentors of all time, but a call to action for school leaders. As we face a teacher shortage, improvement opportunities for those we already have is preferable to starting over with new staff every year. Providing a mentor for a beginning or struggling teacher may make the difference needed for them stay in the profession and impact young lives.