Saturday, 14 April 2018

10 Reasons why I choose to mentor pre-service teachers... and why you should too!

A critical component of every teacher's journey into this profession is a series of practical experience sessions.  Given how critical the practical education is, I am often surprised to hear student teachers mention that they have difficulty finding placements. On reflection, when I was an external university student, I was responsible for organising my own placements which sometimes proved difficult. Sometimes it was because I was calling and emailing on my own behalf and not the university. Most often though, the school administrators reported a lack of willing mentor teachers.

Now that I am on the other side of the fence, I understand a range of barriers that prevent teachers from volunteering to mentor a pre-service teacher. I haven't been teaching long enough, I'm not ready yet, I don't have the time to spare, my life is too stressful, I'm not good enough...

Lots of valid reasons. Some that a born out of fear.

The truth is, you may never feel ready, that you have anything to offer, or that you have the time. I agreed to take on my first mentoring role in my second year of full time teaching, which was my fourth year of teaching. I didn't feel ready. In fact, I asked my supervisor when he offered me the opportunity if he even thought I was ready!

Now, I take on several a year. I will NOT allow an aspiring teacher to struggle to find a placement if I can at all help it. Since January, I have already had one student come in, and she is about to return for a second block, with another student coming immediately after. I also have a student completing her teacher aide course coming in once a week to get her hours completed.  I have found it a very rewarding experience, and the class adore having new people to show their cleverness to!

Not to mention, they come offering good help!

The truth is, there are many benefits to mentoring a pre-service teacher. It just takes a little stepping outside of your comfort zone. And because we have growth mindsets, we can do that, right!?

Here are 10 reasons that I believe that mentoring pre-service teachers is an awesome opportunity for both of you!

1. Rising to a challenge
Often, it is intimidating to have people watching you teach. You might have been observed before, and found it nerve-wracking. Your own practical experiences may have been anxiety-inducing. The idea of having someone sit in your class all day long, potentially for weeks, can be enough to make you run for cover!

Or, with your growth mindset, you can rise to the challenge. See it as an opportunity to showcase your best practice, but also see it as an opportunity to show the reality of teaching. It's not always perfect, or pretty. It can be hard, lessons can derail and we all have bad days.  It's perfectly okay to let them see you mess up and not be at your best! Pre-service teachers need to see and know this!

2. Grow
As scared as you might be about being watched... think about your student! Remember your own practical experiences. Do you remember that feeling?
Just like you're going to be rising to the challenge, so will they. They are also being educated in the latest pedagogies and best practice.

Take the opportunity to learn from exposure to a new educator in your world! We're all life long learners in this, benefit from the opportunity!

3. Invest in the future
This is so important! You won't be in the classroom forever. Someone will have to take over one day. I know you want those people taking over for us to be amazing, just as much as I do!

So do something about it! Play a part in imparting your wisdom, knowledge, tips, ideas, practice and passion to the next generation of teachers. Who knows, they may end up teaching you children, grandchildren, or mentoring a teacher who teaches them!

4. Lunch breaks
This is going to seem weird... but I actually manage to get more lunch breaks when I am mentoring a pre-service teacher. Why? It's simple really.

Often, I will have to comment or even grade their ability to work with other staff professionally and engage in discussions with colleagues. Part of this interactivity happens during lunch breaks in the staff room. I might make it to my staff room once a term, but when I have a prac student, I get there several times a week. It's also a nice way to tick off some of those requirements in a relaxed atmosphere without them feeling like they are being watched like a hawk.

It's also good for you to get out and see other teachers and let them know that yes, you still work here!

5. Positive Community Relationships
Thinking back to my own practical experiences, I can clearly remember several of them. I remember one that was absolutely awful. I described my mentor as 'energetically organised.' It was not a nice time. I also remember some amazing ones where I felt supported and encouraged. I learnt much from both types, but the positive ones were the ones I enjoy talking about. I remember recommending other students try to get pracs with those mentor teachers. I actively recommended avoiding the awful ones!

Providing a positive learning environment for these student teachers will give them the opportunity to brag on you and your school with the people they are studying with. It gives them the opportunity to recommend YOU as a fantastic mentor to other students. I am sent several opportunities a year from a university that isn't even based in my state, with students who are requesting pracs in my classroom. It is beyond flattering, and super cool. It makes my day so much brighter to see those emails!

You can bet that these guys are also out there recommending your school to their friends with kids. Those extra enrollments keep coming year after year... and keeps you in a job!

6. Perspective
Some of the discussions I have had with pre-service students after they have observed my own teaching practices have been incredible. It's amazing to see how other people can perceive things you do. A fresh perspective on how amazing your teaching actually is, can be the best encouragement you can receive!

Often times, questions are asked about things I just 'did' without thinking, and as I actually thought about the why, or the how, of these things, my own eyes were opened up to the fact that some things I do without thinking are fantastic. Some of those things... I'd like to reduce. I am apparently really great at pulling strange faces while I'm teaching. Regardless, it's always nice to have someone remind you that you are good at what you do! Especially in a career that endlessly tells us about every single time we mess up, are misunderstood or forgot to include little Sally's spelling list in her homework book. Let someone remind you!

7. Passion
One of the things that undoubtedly comes up in discussions is how or why you started teaching in the first place. Your story can inspire your prac student, but let it also re-ignite that passion you have for your all-important calling.

I'll bet you got into teaching for the salary and short days, right? No, you really didn't! Believe me, i know. Me neither.
Remembering why you first started can go a long way to re-invigorating your practice!
It's also biblical for those that way inclined, but I wont preach about that here.

8. Inspiration
Inspiration comes in many forms. It can come from seeing curriculum taught it ways you hadn't seen before. It can come from having someone believe in you when you aren't sure that you believe in yourself. 

Taking that leap of faith and allowing a stranger into your classroom is huge. We are so protective of our kids, and what we do. We pour our lives into teaching, which makes its very, VERY personal. Try and remember that these students aren't coming to invade your classroom and judge you, they are coming to be inspired for their future careers and will likely copy things they see from your class. They are coming to learn amazing things... from you! Just letting them in the front door can be enough to provide inspiration!

9. Fly on the Wall
How often do you get to watch other teacher's teach? Probably not as often as you would like, if at all. But it is ALWAYS rewarding to do! This opportunity is a bit unique in that you get to be a fly on the wall in your OWN classroom. Ever wondered what your class is like when you have a sub? Here's a great chance. I

One of the things I like to do is train my class in procedures so that if I am ever away, they can carry on without me, regardless of who is teaching. They just gotta bring the content, the kids will do the rest. I got to see this in action a little while ago. I had a prac student who had some personal turmoil occur, and she was not ready for a lesson. What I witnessed, was my class more or less WALK OVER her lesson to take control of their own learning. I couldn't figure out if I was more proud or mortified.

It also gave me an opportunity to talk with the prac student about what had just happened. The kids took over because they perceived she didn't show a path for them to follow. It was a great learning moment for her and her behaviour management. From that point on, she was OVER prepared for every lesson, and a lot more assertive when the class tried to boss her around if she did something not in the usual procedures. Of course, I had to give a bit of a grumble to the class later, because the way they went about wrestling control off that teacher wasn't respectful.

Because I had the opportunity to see how they operate in action, I am now a lot more mindful when teaching them the routines they need to operate without me, and I am explicit about following instructions from other teachers, even if it is different to how I do things, and being respectful about being in control of their learning.

10. Professional Learning Networks
We all know our networks are important to us. Mine keep expanding with every new practical experience I have in my classroom, because I keep in touch with these pre-service teachers long after the prac has ended. It has meant that I am now connected with several university lecturers and Deans  through the relationships that have been fostered with some of the universities that send their students to us.

It's also inspired me to create an online community to expand my networks! You can click here to join Priceless In Prep's Early Years Learning Network! Connect with other teacher's around the world, and pre-service teachers. Link your blogs, promote your products. Support each other.

Because in the crazy world of education, we gotta lift each other up.

I hope this inspires you to help teachers beginning on their journey by opening up your classroom to them.

Let me know in the comments below what you love about having  pre-service students complete pracs in your class, and what might have stopped you! I want to hear your thoughts!

And if you're a pre-service teacher, I want to hear from you too!

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