Mentoring makes better teachers

I recently had the opportunity to reflect on how mentoring has impacted my career as a teacher.  I realized how important feedback from my professional mentor helped me to change my teaching for the better. Here is my story of how feedback from a mentor helped me become a math teacher.

I was teaching sixth grade at a junior high when my district decided to close the school.  I had been teaching sixth grade for five years, and I had taught every subject except for math.  My new teaching assignment was as a fourth-grade teacher. I would have to teach math, a subject I had previously avoided at all costs. I mainly did not want to teach math because I perceived that I was not good at math.

So I panicked. But to my relief, Thomas Jefferson, my new school, had a veteran teacher, who had a reputation of being an excellent math teacher in my school district. Her name is Margaret. She taught me everything I know about being a math teacher. She took me under her wing and taught me how to teach math, and more important she taught me how to think mathematically.

I would meet with Margaret before I would teach a new concept; she would teach me the best strategies for each concept. I would practice doing the math myself and then I would practice teaching math to my students. After the lesson, I would meet with Margaret again to discuss what worked and what didn’t. Margaret would suggest more strategies or point out the best strategy to focus on. I would go back to class and re-teach the concept to see if that worked any better.

I was able to observe a few of Margaret’s math lessons.  This allowed me to see how to teach hands- on math lessons, something I had no experience in.   In fact, most of my math learning came in the form of the standard algorithm.  I became a math teacher because of my mentor. And, I see the benefits of having a mentor as these:

  • Encourages educators to try new teaching methods
  • Builds confidence
  • Provides opportunities to observe good teaching practices
  • Focuses professional development on specific needs

Margaret would always say to me, “See, you are good at math. I told you so.” I remember fearing math class as a child, but when I actually looked back in my school folder (a folder where my mom had kept all my report cards and academic awards) I found something that surprised me. It was a proficiency report from my seventh grade math class teacher, who praised me for trying the challenge problems. This teacher said I had the aptitude for math.  I also found a math award from Kindergarten.

Somewhere between college and these awards I lost my confidence in math and began to shut math out of my life. Margaret was able to help me through my fear and help me realize I am good at math, teaching math, and math is fun. Last year I had some proof of being an effective math teacher. Data indicated my students were showing more progress in math than reading. This was a surprise! Who would have known!  This made me realize how powerful feedback was to me as a “student” learning to teach math.

I dedicate this blog to Margaret, who taught me how to be a math teacher.  Thank you, Margaret for helping me become a better teacher.  Was there a mentor that helped you become a better teacher?  Share your story with me in my comment box.

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