The best outcome in NQT mentoring is that all parties involved learn from the process? For the NQT, there is the comfort of years of experience to fall back on; for the mentor the process of running through their own effectiveness as a teacher; reflecting on what works and what doesn’t.
Plus, the added bonus of seeing the absolute latest thinking in practice. Who wouldn’t want that?
This clever little rule of attraction suggests that we are attracted by those like us. In other words, positive people attract positive people, and the cynical join with the negative thinkers. It is hard to think of people in the profession more likely to be positive than an NQT, with their career in front of them. Such enjoyment and anticipation rubs off.
The most important person in their life over the next twelve months will be their NQT mentor; and for that mentor themselves, they are about to begin one of the biggest jobs in education. Think about it; if a primary teacher works for twenty years with a class averaging thirty, that is 600 children whose lives they will influence significantly; the figures are higher for secondary school teachers.
And that teacher’s career will itself be under the influence of their NQT mentor.
There are, of course, the files to keep, the meetings to attend, the courses to undertake. But they form just a small part of the NQT’s year, and that of their mentor. Most important, many would argue, are the informal matters, the ones not subjected to assessment. The relationships, the confidence building, the tips and the shoulder to cry on.
Every NQT Is Different…And So Is Every Mentor
It’s really important to remember that every new teacher is their own person, and the same applies to their mentor. Even so, there are strategies, skills, states of mind that can help most people on both sides of the experience net. Back when I first qualified, there was no such thing as an NQT, or mentoring (at least not to the extent of today’s carefully planned programmes). My own experience of support consisted of a glass of sherry with the head every couple of weeks, with conversations that went something like:
Embarrassed silence, and finish the sherry as quickly as possible. On both sides.
So, I felt I could only really write this piece from one perspective – that of the mentor. Therefore, I had a chat with friends, former colleagues and family in the profession, plus a good scan through material on line. What follows is not a scientific study, and no doubt experienced mentors will have their own takes on how they do this vital job. But I hope that there will be some handy ideas which can be adapted to our own circumstances.
The Relationship Between NQT and Mentor Is Key
The feedback I got from those who have been through the NQT mentoring process recently is that they want someone who is friendly, but not yet necessarily a friend. This needs to be a person who is approachable, experienced, non-judgemental and able to say things as they are, albeit in a kindly way.
NQTs will have their friends, and the best mentors recognise that advice will come from many quarters. The mentor’s relationship towards their inexperienced colleague is hard to describe concisely. Not quite the authority of a parent, and certainly not a senior work colleague, but a bit more distant than a brother or sister, and definitely not as close as a friend. There might be times when firm words have to be shared, and that is hard if mentor and mentee are best mates.
The NQT is Their Own Person and Not A Facsimile Of Their Mentor
‘This is how I did it…’
‘Do it like this…’
‘I find that…’
The phrases that NQTs can come to loath. The best teachers develop their own styles; they cherry pick from what they see around them while developing their own teacher’s voice (hopefully, not a shouty one). It was, surely, the worst part of the New Labour ‘teaching model’ that every lesson, every teacher had to be the same. Introduction followed by talk partners followed by individual work and completed by the plenary. Dull, dull, dull. The teacher following the set script, the children acting like little automatons. I hope that we have moved away from that.
The best mentors will encourage their mentee to work through problems themselves, learning from their mistakes as they go. Just like a good teacher will encourage their student. Open ended questions get adults thinking just as much as students:
‘What do you think will work?’
‘Can you identify the problem?’
‘Talk me through the issues.’
These types of questions will encourage the NQT to develop their own answers, and in the process solve their own concerns.
It’s Fine To Get It Wrong
As experienced teachers, we know that not every lesson is ‘outstanding’ (imagine how exhausted the kids would be if they were!), sometimes they do not work for every student. Occasionally for none of them.
Imbuing such understanding into an NQT is one of the most important roles of the mentor. Helping them to understand that making mistakes are the best route to improvement will help self confidence, and that in turn will lead to professional development.
But They Still Make A Difference
Chatting to recent NQTs in my highly unscientific survey, one point that arises again and again is that, as a new teacher, they are still ‘not real,’ at least in their own minds. The NQT year can seem like an extended, paid, teaching practice. But we know that kids, at least up to sixth form, considering everybody over the age of 21 as ancient. They do not make the distinction between experience and unfamiliarity, just between good teachers and bad.
Every teacher makes a difference. Please, hammer the message into your mentee. It’s the time the NQT mentoring message is non-negotiable.
Look Outwards Not Inwards
We all know how all-consuming teaching becomes, that applies to NQTs and to mentors – plus everybody in between. As an experienced teacher feeling the strain, imagine what it is like if you are new to the profession, trying to cope with the additional paperwork being an NQT brings, not having that wealth of tricks to fall back on, and (most likely) looking to have a social life as well.
NQTs tell of the benefits of having mentors who encouraged them to open up their vision to the wider profession, rather than narrow it to their own classroom.
Tough Words Best Said
At some point, in all probability, a mentor is going to need a serious talk with their inexperienced colleague. Perhaps a poor lesson observation; maybe a deadline missed or even a bit of conduct that has put a nose out of joint among colleagues or parents.
Both sides know what has happened (if either doesn’t, that is a problem.) So best to have the discussion quickly and, as hard as it is, get back to normal as soon as possible. Embarrassment caused by having to ‘speak’ to a colleague, or having been ‘spoken to’ by one passes quickest when everything returns to normal.
NQT Mentoring – the Role That Never Ends
Many NQTs say that their first year is tough. All the new challenges plus loads of paperwork to complete. But at least there is support. For years two and three, the newness and uncertainty are still there – the support often isn’t.
Knowing that their mentor is still around, available when needed, can make the process of becoming a teacher that little bit easier.