February 15, 2023
Mentorship has given me a lot of purpose as a teacher. As teachers, we are always changing, growing, and learning new ways to challenge our students and become better educators. As a brand-new teacher, I was primarily focused on presenting the curriculum, and making sure that my lesson plans were perfectly written, my classroom looked welcoming, and that my bulletin boards were just right.
However, as time went on, I was given a mentor teacher who provided me with excellent materials and advice on teaching first grade. Reflecting on my own mentoring experience, I realized that she was an expert teacher; however, we were not in the same building, and we were not given time to plan together. I wasn’t able to observe her teaching, where I could make notes of her classroom management, design and other important aspects of successfully running a classroom. Therefore, I did not feel fully supported. Moreover, I felt alone in my teaching endeavors. So, I made the decision to invest time in my own learning process to make sure that I was developing into a knowledgeable, student-oriented teacher.
Slowly, over time, I began to develop the skills I needed to be a leader. I understood the unique passions I had for learning, and I cultivated them into part of my professional life as an educator. By cultivating these passions, I saw a huge shift in the way I perceived my role as a teacher. I have learned many new skills, gained valuable experience, built confidence, practiced, reflected, honed my craft, and constructed safe, trusting, meaningful relationships with both students, their families, and my colleagues. I feel that I have a calling to work with new teachers and create systems of synergy to achieve a common purpose.
I have been fortunate to have had administrators who empowered me and who saw potential in me as a leader. This support helped to build my confidence and offered me opportunities to expand my teacher leadership.
I mentor other veteran teachers from within my district, as well as neighboring districts, in how to implement the Daily 5 literacy block into their schedules. I am actively involved as the first-grade team leader, I have taken on the leadership role on our Leader in Me Lighthouse Team, and I mentor new teachers in our building. As the first-grade team leader, I work collaboratively with my colleagues to work on curriculum, plan lessons and create shared materials that will help drive student engagement and achievement.
Mentoring new teachers and other veteran teachers has brought me a lot of joy, satisfaction and growth. Mentoring allows for collaboration and authentic dialogue, and gives mentors an opportunity to build a framework of time to spend each day with their new teachers. This communication time is critical to the success of those teachers, so they know that their voices are being heard and their needs are being met. A significant part of mentoring is helping new teachers set goals, reflect on their teaching and develop a positive, growth mindset that helps them become inclusive, safe, passionate teachers who know how to impact students in a positive way.
Being a mentor teacher is a great example of being able to practice leadership skills and advocate for change within the school system by helping other teachers see the possible gaps in the system, and it allows for common conversations about how to better fill those gaps. Teachers who feel supported in their districts by other passionate and enthusiastic teachers often feel like they want to stay in the profession. Building these new collaborative skills while being supported helps new teachers grow self-confidence in their teaching and often plants seeds of leadership within them. They may feel empowered to offer leadership in other ways throughout the building so they can create a culture of continuous learning and growing.
The importance of being a teacher leader through mentorship has given me the purpose of leveling up the profession, and helping new teachers gain confidence and feel supported in their new endeavors. I think that mentoring fosters collegiality, communication and excitement about the teaching profession.
Additionally, it provides new teachers with the opportunity to develop their own leadership skills and continue to learn and grow with the support of a passionate lead teacher. I believe that mentoring is a powerful tool for new teachers and that advocating for and providing mentoring programs is a critical piece in the recruitment process for this wonderful profession.
About Nanette Hanson: I am a proud teacher with 20-plus years of varied teaching experiences in several teaching positions, from alternative high school through first grade. I work each day to build safe and supportive relationships that help kids grow and flourish while embracing each child’s needs and individuality. As Michigan Teacher of the Year 2022-23, I will strive to continue to build relationships with educational stakeholders to work toward building systems that better offer equitable, inclusive educational opportunities for all students across Michigan.