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Mentoring in the 21st Century

Retired educators, like you, often are unable to get out and about to the communications-technologydegree you did when working full time, but that’s no reason to pass up the opportunity to share experiences that can support those new to the profession.  You can use some of the same communication tools you now use to keep up with former colleagues and students, and with your children, grandchildren and other extended family.

I’ve had the privilege of working with early career teachers across the nation as part of two different NCTE initiatives.  The first was the Early Career Educators of Color Award.  NCTE selected ten young people to meet during the Affiliate Leadership Institute for two and half days. During that weekend, NCTE Executive Committee members and three mentor-facilitators helped the new teachers to refine and then prepare to implement a project designed enhance their teaching and improve learning for students at their  school sites or communities.  The EC board has since modified the program, reducing the number of award winners to six, but now have them attend two consecutive NCTE conventions.  Three teachers from this original cohort have  served as mentors for  subsequent cohorts working with award winners  from all over the country. For example,  Last year, my two award winners were from Alabama and Texas.  This year, one from Illinois; the other from Louisiana; other mentors and award winners are in Florida, Kentucky and Connecticut.

CEL_logo_120pxThe Conference on English Leadership established a similar program in 2010 called the Emerging Leaders Fellowship to support educators who may be in their first three years of a new leadership position.  I’ve served as a mentor for three of these cohorts.  When the paired fellows live nearby, we can visit their classrooms or meet them for lunch. That often is not the case.  What is crucial to the success of this model of mentoring  is the on-going communication we can maintain across long-distances using twenty-first century technology such as Twitter chats, Google Hang-outs and  along with simple emails and phone calls and texting.

We ELF mentors meet our fellows at the conference the award cohort is announced, coach them through a full school year, and encourage them to present in a session at the next conference.  Most ELF fellows do just that.

Nina Johnson is an Emerging Leader Fellowship winner from 2013 whom I mentored.  She lives On Line Sharingin North Carolina.  I live in Michigan.  We maintained regular communication primarily by email for the year of her official fellowship 2013-2014.  However, as often happens when a mutually satisfying relationship is established, our unofficial fellowship did not end.  The next year, an all girls’ school in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates offered Nina a teaching position.  She contacted me
about this opportunity to live and work abroad for a year or so asking my opinion and advice.  After consulting with others in her family and professional circles, Nina accepted the job and moved across the globe, just south of the Tropic of Cancer, very near to the Persian Gulf.

Nina’s major move did not abort our communication.  In fact, the move increased it.  Like early career teachers  who sometimes feel isolated in their own buildings, in new communities, and definitely in new countries where one seldom hears ones heart language or regularly sees people who look familiar or dress in familiar attire, Nina had some difficult days.   This also is the case for scores of Asian Man Thinkingearly career educators who graduate determined to succeed wherever they are assigned.  Too often, however, these precious novice teachers become despondent, not because they are not intellectually prepared to teach, but because of personal or emotional challenges in their new environment.  That’s when we veteran educators can help.  We can be there as advisers, empathetic and sympathetic , encouraging them to stay the course knowing we, who care about them personally and professionally, have their back.  We will be there to listen and advise non-judgmentally.

Nina Johnson could not attend the CEL conference this year, but using twenty-first century technology, she taped a video on her cell phone and sent it to me attached to a Facebook message.  I was able to share her message at our conference. Here is Nina Johnson from Abu Dhabi, describing value of the mentor/mentoring relationship we share.

I encourage you to step out and offer your services to other early career teachers and leaders who would benefit from your experience, too.

In this, the twenty-first century, Nina and I still talk regularly, continent to continent, using on-line communication tools beyond email, and traditional telephone.  We sometimes “talk” in real time right on line…at no additional out of pocket expense to either of us.

Two Computers - AnimatedI now invite you retired NCTE educators to volunteer to serve as a mentor either directly with early career educators you already know about or through our Emeritus Assembly of NCTE project.  Please take a few moments to complete the questionnaire we’ve designed to gather information and create a data base from which new teachers can select the veteran educators whose experience seems to fit the need of the early career teachers.

Barn Owl on Tree LimbOur Early Career Educators need us.  We need them not only to help us stay connected  and feel useful, but also to do our parts to improve the education system that will be educating our grandchildren and those of our family and friends!



Recommended for Mentors


In April, 2015 Melanie Shoffner, Chair of the NCTE Conference on English Education sent the following recommendations:

“Some time ago, you asked about potential resources for Assembly members. In general, I would direct people to the Resources listed on the NCTE website. While books and journals are obviously rich resources, the position statements ( http://www.ncte.org/positions ) and policy briefs (http://www.ncte.org/policy-research ) offer succinct overviews of current issues facing ELA and literacy teachers. That may seem like an obvious statement and I certainly don’t mean to insult your members, but I always surprise myself with what I am able to find through these two portals when I’m looking for a “quick” resource.

I would also direct you to a relatively new weblog created and maintained by the Writing Commission entitled Teachers, Profs, Parents: Writers Who Care ( https://writerswhocare.wordpress.com/ ). This is a resource advocating for meaningful writing in our schools; the pieces are brief but powerful and offer insight into the issues facing teachers and students in English classrooms today.”

Mentoring is Key

Talking  Pairs

Most long term teachers are successful and satisfied in the profession because of the generosity and support of those who came before. We think back with sadness that for want of a capable, compassionate mentor, too many eager and talented novices drop out before they had gained the confidence and competence to adapt to the challenges of classroom teaching.  We know without a doubt that mentoring is a must to maintain quality in our profession.

That is the main reason we’re launching an Emeritus Assembly/Early Career Educators mentoring program as our opening gamut to this revival of the Emeritus Assembly of National  Teachers of English (NCTE) that has been inactive for nearly decade.  In reviewing early documents from EA, we learned that from the very beginning, mentoring was one of the goals this assembly.  Clearly men like John Cotter, a long time president of Emeritus Assembly, and others with whom he collaborated all recognized the mutual benefits of such a relationship between veteran and novice members of this profession.

Henry Kiernan, past Chair of the Conference on English Leadership wrote in his October 1998 English Leadership Quarterly article “Mentoring and Developing Future Leaders that “Experienced teachers are cognizant of the important of supporting a new teacher.  They well remember how critically important the first pivotal years in the profession are to determining success.”  We remember; let’s help.

We therefore seek to continue the fine work of the EA founders and welcome all retired and soon-to-retire educators to join the Emeritus Assembly of NCTE to do your part to assist in getting new and early career teachers off to a good start.  Please complete the survey regarding the mentoring project.

Questions? Just email us at emeritusassembly2014@gmail.com.