Mentoring has been the topic of this column several times over the past few years. Thanks to all the talk about teacher quality in our state, here we are again.
In addition to tenure reform, the TEACHNJ Act signed into law last summer addressed mentoring. It requires that experienced teachers new to a district, as well as those new to the profession, must be mentored.
As they should, lawmakers have left the specifics of how this should be accomplished to the staff of the N.J. Department of Education (NJDOE) who will propose amendments to the code governing mentoring, and the State Board of Education, which must adopt this code.
Fortunately, the NJDOE has decided to move slowly before presenting its proposals to the State Board. And in another sign that it understands the importance of high quality mentoring, NJDOE officials have reached out to NJEA for assistance.
It should come as no surprise that the organization representing 120,000 teachers (and thousands more preservice and retired educators) knows a thing or two about preparing folks for a job that is as challenging as it is rewarding.
Mentoring must be only one part of a larger systematic, comprehensive induction program that invites teachers new to the practice to sustained professional learning. It should be a differentiated process based on the professional and life experiences of new teachers.
Mentoring is best achieved in a culture where the confidentiality between mentor and mentee is valued and respected. Therefore, mentors must have a non-evaluative role.
A mentor should be assigned to the mentee and actively involved with the mentee from the first day of assignment, including any orientation days. The mentor should provide observation and feedback, opportunities for modeling, and confidential support and guidance.
Because mentoring is important work, mentors should be compensated with funds provided by the school district and/or the state. They should receive their stipend check from the employing district, not from the mentee. Mentoring should be subject to collective bargaining.
To ensure the integrity of the program, mentors require substantial training and support in adult learning models and school and district mission and policies. Mentors must be rated effective or highly effective, and have a minimum of have five years of experience in the district.
Mentoring requires teachers to work together in the course of the school day. Adequate release time must be provided to allow for this collaboration. The amount of time allotted for this purpose should be based on whether the mentee holds a standard certificate, has completed a teacher education program, or is entering the profession through the alternate route.
Sometimes the simplest answer is the right one. High quality mentoring will strengthen the teaching profession.
Of course, the NJDOE has attempted to institute mentoring programs several times over the last few years. Sadly, those programs have been derailed by a lack of funds, inadequate training and insufficient time, or a lack of interest. Let’s hope that this time, the state builds a quality mentoring initiative and has the fortitude to see it through.