Saturday, September 6, 2014

Here's To My Mentor, My PLN.

Image from ellenc808 at Flickr.
This post is part of the 30-Day Blog Challenge from TeachThought. To learn more about the challenge go to

DAY 6: Explain: What does a good mentor "do"?

Let's take a brief tour through my thirteen years of teaching thus far.

Year 0, Preservice Teaching: I had the opportunity to student teach in a large inner-city high school. I was assigned three different preps to teach. The classroom teacher to whom I was assigned was very friendly, but also excited to enjoy some time out of the classroom. I observed her teach for about a week, and then I was pretty much on my own.  The way I remember it, however, is that this didn't really bother me at the time. I think I just assumed it was how student-teaching was meant to be. Any sign of mentorship? Nope.

Years 1-2, My First Teaching Position: During my first two years of teaching I was the only life science teacher at a small, private high school, so I taught four preps. There were two other science teachers, but we didn't communicate very often. One was a great teacher and very genuine man, but close to retirement and not interested in taking a wide-eyed new educator under his wing. The other was busy with her young children and had little time for working with me. In fact, I ended up subbing for her while she was on maternity leave. Neither of these individuals shunned me or treated me poorly. The conditions and supports just weren't there for a positive mentoring experience. But again, I didn't know what I was missing.

Years 3-4, The First Years In My Current School: I accepted a position as the life science teacher at a new district, this time in a small, rural public high school. The other high school science teacher was an old-school "sit in your seat and listen" teacher on the verge of retirement. Again, he was friendly enough - he and his wife actually took my young family out to dinner one night - but not interested in being a mentor. In fact, I remember feeling confused when he missed our first district-scheduled mentorship meeting because he was "at the lake."  So I plowed ahead on my own again, with four preps, one of which was a Soil Science class I hadn't a clue how to teach and another being an Anatomy class I was required to teach over TV!

Years 5-11, The "Nose To The Grindstone" Years: When I think back on these years, I see flickers of connections with potential mentors, but nothing that was sustainable. I would attend a great workshop or continuing education class, bring home good ideas for my classes, but was never able to sustain any relationships that were initiated at the training. I was constantly searching online for appropriate lessons for my students and suggestions to improve their learning, but the results were sporadic. I pretty much did all of my reflection in my own head, my only sounding board  A new science teacher was hired when the previous teacher retired, and I suddenly found myself in the role of a mentor for someone else. I was certainly growing from the conversations we had, but still didn't feel as though I had a mentor of my own.

Year 12: The Year I Found A PLN: In the summer of 2014, I was taking an online class and was encouraged to become more active on Twitter. I also learned how to use Google+ during that same time. It was a revelation. Slowly but surely, I began to make connections with other teachers, join in global conversations, and get a peak into classrooms across the nation. My PLN became my mentors. Why do I feel a PLN is the first mentor I've ever truly had? Because these are the people that inspire and motivate me. They make me a more reflective teacher and ensure that my excitement for learning is being constantly rejuvenated. Most importantly, they challenge me. I see what others are accomplishing and the risks they are taking, and that motivates me to do the same. Never before has anyone truly pushed me as a teacher. Up until last year, I was pretty much in my own little bubble and any "pushing" was solely the result of self-motivation.

I have grown more in my most recent year of teaching than I did in the previous 11 because my "mentor" inspired me to think more deeply about learning and collaboration. This experience has also made me a more effective mentor to others. Let's continue to leverage technology and global connections so that there is no longer any excuse for a first-year teacher, or any teacher for that matter, to feel alone in his/her struggles.

*If you are a new teacher and looking to develop a PLN, or an experienced teacher willing to reach out to others, consider participating in New Teacher Chat (#ntchat) weekly on Twitter. More information can be found HERE.

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