It is your first term as a teacher and you are discovering that your new role can be both confusing and bewildering. You need help from people already working in school if you are going to get through those early weeks.
Most schools recognise that NQTs have a lot to learn and should allocate mentors to their NQTs to help them during that difficult first year.
It is important for you to build a good working relationship with your mentor quickly. Your mentor is an experienced teacher who also knows how your school operates.
He or she can help you to avoid making many of the mistakes that you would probably make if you had to work out for yourself how everything works. Help yourself to succeed faster by making the most of the support your mentor can offer.
What does having a mentor mean?
Early in September find out what mentoring means in your new school and what the scope and limitations of the mentoring programme are. Ask senior people about the objectives of the mentoring scheme, how it functions and what the responsibilities of mentors and mentees are. If there is anything written down about the programme in your staff handbook, or on your school’s intranet, read it.
Once you are clear, talk to people who have experienced the programme recently. Start with last year’s NQTs. Ask them how the scheme works in practice and what they found useful about it – you will then be in a better position to make good use of the mentoring support that is available.
What should I discuss?
From the time you arrive in school you will be thinking about who to ask for help when you need it. Sometimes the way forward is clear. You will turn to your head of department for help with subject-specific issues, the relevant pastoral staff member for questions about your tutoring responsibilities, or a member of the senior management team about a whole-school issue.
However, sometimes answers are less easy to find. There may be different viewpoints in school about how to deal with many of the issues you need to learn more about.
Turn to your mentor when you need someone to interpret complex situations and diverse opinions. Draw on your mentor’s experience to help you to understand why things are done the way they are in your school, and which of the various approaches to dealing with contentious issues it would make sense for you to try first.
How often should we meet?
The frequency of your meetings may be set out in the information about how the mentoring scheme works. Alternatively, how often you meet might be something that is left to you and your mentor to decide. It would make sense to suggest a weekly meeting to begin with. You might need to meet with your mentor more frequently in your first couple of weeks in school. After that every fortnight might be enough. As a rule of thumb, as soon as you have more than two items on your list of topics to discuss with your mentor, it is time for the two of you to put your diaries together.
Should I talk about personal issues?
Tread carefully here. Some people prefer to keep their working lives and their lives beyond work totally separate. Some people recognise that the two are often inter-related.
What does your mentor think about where the limits of the mentoring process lie? You may not need to ask. It could become clear in your early meetings whether or not your mentor has valuable insights to offer you about personal issues as well as about professional ones. As you get to know your mentor better you will probably develop your own views about whether you would like to discuss personal issues with him or her.
How can I help my mentor to help me?
It is easy when thinking about mentoring to focus on the mentee. However, a good mentoring relationship is a partnership, so it is worth asking your mentor what you can do to make the relationship run smoothly.
Should you give your mentor regular updates on how you are doing? Should you seek out your mentor each lunchtime or after school on a Tuesday? What issues does your mentor think it is a good idea for you to focus on right away? Ask the questions and you are likely to build a better relationship faster.
You and your mentor
As a teacher you spend a lot of your career working alone and dealing with situations where you need to find the solutions to problems yourself. During your time as an NQT you have the opportunity to work differently and to call on the support of a mentor. Take advantage of the situation. Make use of this customised and tailored support while you can. It might not be as readily available later in your career as it is in your first weeks as a teacher.
Margaret Adams is an education author and a former teacher.