Guiding lights

In the education profession the terms ‘mentor’, ‘coach’ and ‘supervisor’ are used interchangeably and often to mean the same person fulfilling a couple of different roles.

Problems exist where mentors are used as supervisors of accreditation (instead of two separate people). A supervisor is someone who oversees accreditation and advises, or has professional dialogues about accreditation and teaching based professional discussions. They might have a coaching style approach to the accreditation process.

A mentor should be so much more than that. Ideally it’s someone outside of your immediate working relationship and not in your line of management. This gives them an objective distance to allow them to act as critical guides, rather than just points of affirmation or directives. Of course a teaching mentor might reference the Standards in discussions, but there’s a lot more to the role – advice on school culture, working in the education field, working in the school community and working with colleagues just being a few topics.

This isn’t going to be an article about a definition debate. If your school is using mentor and supervisor interchangeably, focus on making the best of the situation. It might be that you want to seek a separate mentor personally.

Here are some questions all early career teachers should consider:

Do I have a true mentor outside of accreditation processes? If not, how can I find one?
Should I be networking more? Am I in networks that simply confirm my existing knowledge, or am I being challenged to think?

Am I utilising everything that is offered to me: Do I know how many days/hours my employer offers me as an early career teacher? Do I know how to access them? Who can I ask to find out? (Hint: ask your IEU rep.)

Am I taking advantage of everything membership offers me. That is, are you attending IEU PD and training? Are you using your other professional memberships well? Are you taking advantage of any employer-run networks or PD?

Am I forming a professional relationship with people I admire? Most teachers care about the next generation – that’s why we’re in this game. This usually extends to early career teachers. If you admire someone’s practice, contact them. Ask if there are opportunities to learn from them.

Entering teaching after a different career

One group of early career teachers that is often overlooked are those who are either becoming teachers later in life or who are returning after a significant break.

Education can be daunting for someone entering a second career. The workplace moves to an entirely different beat, and sometimes the mental shift from for profit to service based work is large.

For those re-entering teaching in NSW, whatever the reason for the gap, technology, curriculum, policies, teaching strategies and worst of all education acronyms have all moved on.

Often this group of mature aged entrants into teaching is overlooked when mentors or supervisors are assigned. But if it’s your first year of teaching, you may be entitled to release and professional development (depending on your employer and nature of employment).

However, you may have to make the first move yourself – people may assume that you are an experienced teacher and forget to include you in mentoring programs.

Further reading on mentoring:

Amy Cotton
Professional Officer