We are (almost) all mentors

Recently I had an interesting conversation with my newbie science teacher colleague, Christa Chisholm. I offered some unsolicited advice, as I frequently do. In a typically Canadian moment, I apologized for “telling her what to do”, but hoped that she wouldn’t mind, given the fact that I am older. In a moment of crystal clarity, Christa responded, “That’s okay, you can be my school Dad.”


Christa had the maturity to recognize some useful advice, and to see me as an informal mentor, rather than a busy-body know-it-all. Like any decent Dad, I offer suggestions and guidance, make gentle corrections, and tell jokes that are in poor taste. Like real Dads, school Dads help their “children” so they don’t make rookie mistakes. The idea that new teachers should somehow suffer — “because I did” — is as outdated as it is asinine.

Why should a first year teacher re-invent the wheel? Why can’t we share proven classroom management techniques or that lab on limiting reagents that just nails it?

Anyone with some teaching experience, or who has knowledge of the subject matter, can be a mentor. Come to think of it, mentors can be mentees, too. No one knows everything.

I propose that everyone with more than, say, five years teaching experience find some way to mentor a less experienced teacher, or a teacher who’s teaching outside his or her area. Given current demographics — the large number of baby boomer teachers who will retire in the next few years — there have to be TONS of fabulous resources out there and a heap of wisdom. The last thing we need is for an experienced chemistry teacher’s canon to retire with him or her.

If you’re already a mentor, thank you. If you’d like to be a mentor, why not take on a student teacher or teacher-intern, or help that new teacher. If you work for a school board, contact the wonk in charge of your area to put the wheels in motion.

On behalf of everyone: thank you.