For newer teachers, the advice and support of more experienced colleagues can be life-changing. One U.S. Department of Education study found that teachers who were assigned a mentor in their first year were more likely to remain in the profession long term than those who were not.
But how can you build a relationship with fellow educators in this challenging school year?
If you are a first-year teacher who has not had prior teaching experience, you should have been assigned an official mentor who is required to log at least 40 hours of one-on-one mentoring with you into the DOE mentoring system. Your mentor’s support is intended to be nonevaluative, and your discussions with your mentor are confidential. If you haven’t been assigned a mentor, you should reach out to your school’s UFT chapter leader and request one.
Even if you’re no longer entitled to an official DOE mentor, you’ll still benefit from forming a relationship with a senior colleague.
“A good connection to make for newer teachers is a ‘buddy teacher’ — someone who has experience and who is a team player,” says Sandra Fajgier, a prekindergarten teacher at K280 in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn. “Someone who will check in on you to make sure you’re taking your lunch break, to see if you need anything.”
Jean Ellen Murphy, the Teacher Center site coach at Community Health Academy of the Heights in Manhattan, says it’s important for newer teachers to have a “thought partner” that they can chat with on a regular schedule.
“Even if it’s another new teacher, or someone who’s not in your school, establish someone you can talk to every week at a certain time,” she suggests.
If you haven’t been able to form such a relationship, reach out to someone in your school who might be able to point you in the right direction. If your principal or assistant principal doesn’t feel approachable, check in with your UFT chapter leader, your school’s coach or the parent coordinator or another colleague who interacts with many different staff members.
“You can say, ‘I know you may not have time, but can you point me in the right direction of a senior teacher who has the bandwidth to help me?’” advises Fajgier.
This teacher may be able to do something as simple as create a student account for you in their own Google Classrooms so you can see how it functions, or add you to their distribution lists so you can see how they communicate with students and families. If there are experienced teachers at your school who are working remotely, ask if you can watch one of their recorded lessons.
If your school doesn’t already have a virtual classroom for educators to share ideas and practices with each other, consider suggesting one “so it’s not on any one teacher’s shoulders to share resources,” Fajgier says.
Don’t feel badly about asking for support.
“Think about the culture of your school and a smart way to start this conversation with other teachers and your administration, because this is what you deserve to have,” Fajgier says.