Max Fischer remembers Harold, the teacher next door when Max was a first-year teacher. That was long before formalized mentor programs were the norm. Fischer shares what he learned from Harold and from his own experiences mentoring new teachers.
Max W. Fischer
When I think back to my first year teaching, my memories are a fusion of feelings of blissful ignorance and sheer panic.
I tried to appear and sound authoritative to parents but, in reality, I was terrified of saying too much and allowing my inexperience to show.
I wanted to impress my principal with sophisticated lessons -- but I was coaching football and baseball that first year, so I rarely got home before 7:00 in the evening. When I got home from coaching, I collapsed in bed. That didn't leave a lot of time to plan elaborate lessons.
I wanted to control my class, secretly hoping my students wouldn't see me nod off as they did their seatwork, because my physiology wasn't prepared for the rigors of that year.
My first classroom was a cleaned-out art supply room, about 15 fifteen feet square. Three long tables in a "U" shape formed the working area for my 16 fourth graders. Their books were stored in a sturdy closet that also held art supplies left over from the previous five decades. Besides the entrance door, the classroom had one other door. That door connected to the adjacent fifth-grade classroom -- Harold's room.
Harold helped me establish learning stations in my room. Together, we set up a collaborative series of stations in both rooms, so we could simultaneously teach science and social studies to both grades.
Harold taught me how to use the mimeograph machine and how to remove its fluid stains from my hands.
He introduced me to the nuances of the daily routine.
He didn't have to do it, but Harold ate lunch with his students as a way to get more involved with them. So I added my own spin on that practice. I played ball with the kids during recess.
It was Harold who introduced me to combining art with my spelling words as another means of getting my students actively involved in their linguistic exercises. That was almost a decade before Howard Gardner published his initial work about multiple intelligences.
Harold was the epitome of a caring, skillful teacher who gave his all to his students -- and to me. I was fortunate that he taught in the classroom next door.
SOMEOBODY TO LEAN ON
Recently, I wrote a Voice of Experience essay bemoaning the fact that more than 50 percent of new teachers leave the profession before they have taught five years. Part of the reason for that, I suspect, is because so many of those teachers don't have a Harold in their lives. Whether through a structured mentor program or through the care and concern of a veteran colleague like Harold, rookie teachers need compassionate guidance during their first year or two.
Throughout my career, I have been lucky to be able to "be a Harold" -- to serve as a formal or informal mentor -- to many young teachers. Through those mentoring experiences, I have found a handful of strategies that I consider most useful in assisting new teachers:
A mentor/first year teacher relationship, when properly executed pays big dividends for both educators. The new teacher grows in confidence as he or she finds those all-important "teaching legs;" the mentor finds satisfaction in passing on his or her experience and skills.
Creating a Teacher Mentoring Program. This site from the National Education Association (NEA) Foundation for Improving Education offers advice about developing mentoring programs that work.
A teacher for nearly three decades, Max Fischer currently teaches seventh graders the marvels of ancient history. A National Board certified teacher in the area of early adolescence social studies/history, Max has authored nine resource books for teachers in the fields of social studies, health, and math. You can read a previously published article about Fischer: Simulations Engage Students in Active Learning.
Article by Max Fischer
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