Sunday / July 21

The Importance of Mentor Relationships

It is both humbling and disconcerting to realize that no matter how many years we teach, there is still so much more for us to learn. Just when we think we’ve got things under control, we face new challenges we’ve never imagined. And that’s one reason why mentoring never ends. No matter how old you are, or how many years you’ve spent in the field, you will always need help from others who have expertise or knowledge in new areas; sometimes we just need a trusted confidante and listener who can hear us out.

We just can’t possibly learn everything on our own, nor keep up with all the developments in pedagogy, technology, popular culture, much less our students’ lives. There is not a task more important than finding wise and experienced colleagues who can guide us throughout our careers and no role more important than the one we provide as mentors for others who are struggling. Each of us, no matter where we are positioned in our profession, needs support during times of confusion or crisis. And say what you will about a teacher’s journey—but we certainly get more than our fair share of challenges on a daily basis.

At times we are all protégés who admire selected others for their skills or ways of sorting through problems. Each of us seeks out individuals who hold a degree of wisdom or experience that augments our own knowledge; each of us serves that role for others. Teachers often seek mentoring help when they require specialized assistance to

  • Gain the benefit of expertise that is outside your specialty
  • Help you look at fresh or innovative solutions to problems that you face
  • Get a more detached and objective perspective on what you are experiencing
  • Solicit help handling tasks that you don’t have the time or inclination to complete
  • Obtain training or information in a particular area of need
  • Find alternative perspectives that are creative or different
  • Challenge patterns or behaviors that are counterproductive or ineffective
  • Lend support during difficult times that have been sparked by personal issues or professional problems
  • Act as an advocate on your behalf when under pressure or in transition

We need short-term support until we figure things out and function on our own, but we also benefit from ongoing, long-term support. Then, with experience our roles change as we move from being mentored to providing support and assistance and then mentoring to others!

Written by

Ellen Kottler, Ed.S., has been a teacher for over 30 years in public and private schools, alternative schools, adult education programs, and universities. She has worked in inner-city schools as well as in suburban and rural settings. She was a curriculum specialist in charge of secondary social studies and law-related education for one of the country’s largest school districts. Ellen is the author or coauthor of several books for educators, including Secrets for Secondary School Teachers: How to Succeed in Your First Year, On Being a Teacher, Secrets to Success for Beginning Elementary School Teachers, Counseling Skills for Teachers, English Language Learners in Your Classroom: Strategies That Work, Secrets to Success for Science Teachers, Students Who Drive You Crazy: Succeeding with Resistant, Unmotivated, and Otherwise Difficult Young People, and The Teacher’s Journey.

She teaches secondary education and supervises intern teachers at California State University, Fullerton.

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