Imprisoned by mentoring?

I had an interesting day yesterday.

I found out that I’m not a teacher leader—At least by the definition of another recognized teacher leader I know. In her mind, I’ve wasted my opportunity to be influential and I haven’t used my voice to do anything meaningful. In fact, my decisions about leadership have “saddened and confused her.”

Now before reading any further, please know that I’m pretty secure in my teacher leadership!  I don’t define who I am as a leader by what others think of me and I’m actually pretty confident that I’ve had a relatively significant impact on teaching compared to most of my peers.

(How’s that for arrogance, selfishness, stubborn-ness, and belligerence all wrapped into one!)

What I find interesting is that when asked to define what is so disappointing about my decisions as a leader, my colleague says that mentoring beginning teachers is what truly defines a teacher leader—-and formalized mentoring is something I’ve avoided like the workroom on a Wednesday!  “You can’t be a teacher leader,” she argues, “unless you’re mentoring.  To turn your back on mentoring is a failure.”

In some ways I agree with my critic:  People who commit themselves to  mentoring as a form of leadership are SAINTS.  They’re support of new teachers is invaluable and an incredibly important form of teacher leadership in our profession.  We don’t have enough remarkable mentors in my school….and they don’t get paid enough to do what they’re doing.  We should bronze every accomplished mentor for future generations to admire.

But as a guy who has never embraced working with new teachers, I’ve got a dozen questions running through my mind right now:

—Does the view that mentoring = teacher leadership stretch into all buildings?  Is that because mentoring is probably the most common leadership opportunity available to teachers?

—Do most school leaders think mentoring = teacher leadership?  And if so, does this help or hurt teachers?  Does the belief that mentoring = teacher leadership limit the impact that can we have on other areas of our profession because no one is particularly inclined to see us as anything other than strong shoulders of support for beginning teachers?

—Is it time to redefine mentoring to encompass those of us who support more experienced peers?  Is my work to move a 6th year teacher who is competent in the classroom but bored with his work into new roles “mentoring?”  Are bloggers who stimulate provocative thinking about issues related to teaching and learning “mentors?”  Is reaching out to policy makers who have no idea what classrooms are really like “mentoring?”  How about identifying and then amplifying instructional practices?  Where does that fit into the “mentoring” conversation?

What say y’all?

I guess I’m just a bit fed up with  “teacher leadership” today.  We’ve got our heads wrapped around traditional roles for teachers—and because mentoring beginning teachers isn’t something that leaves me jazzed, I find myself all-too-often on the outside looking in.

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