In his first blog for Nexus Education, ‘Mr. T.’, shares some of his 10 years worth of expertise on how to have the best relationship with your mentor/ mentees.
So as I hand over the box of tissues for the third time that term, I find myself asking “How did it get to this point?”
I am confident this is a situation that frequently occurs between an NQT and their mentor during their NQT year. Having mentored nearly 16 NQTs over my time as an NQT mentor, all but one have cried on me at some point, and in most cases because things have got to breaking point.
As an NQT mentor I pride myself on being approachable and an extremely supportive person. I am an eternal optimist and truly strive to see the best in everyone and every situation. Yet year on year I have the conversation with the NQT during their first day of induction about how my key role is to support them. Yes I will be setting and monitoring targets, and yes every term I will be reporting on the progress they are making towards meeting the standards. But when they need help and support I am the person who can organise any additional CPD or training they may need and I am here to help.
Yet year on year this seems to fall on deaf ears. Don’t get me wrong I can completely see the dichotomy this creates. My role as Deputy Head and the person who will judge them makes it difficult to share those weaknesses with or to open up to when they are struggling with something. However I am the person who is employed to offer them the support they need and coordinate that support and make sure they get the best opportunities they can from the year.
There are several strategies I have tried in order to address this that I will share with you, but I have yet to find the answer to this solution.
Saying a cheery hello every morning and asking about them as a person. Let’s forget the teaching bit at some points and build a relationship that allows for trust to be built.
Sharing my own failings. Not being afraid to say when lessons did not go the way I had hoped (often akin to the maiden voyage of the titanic, not going as hoped)
Always being ready to listen or, if for some reason it wasn’t the best time to listen, arranging an opportunity to take time to properly listen, hopefully in the staffroom over a custard cream.
Try and pre-empt the things that an NQT might not know they don’t know. (Most of you will have re-read that sentence several times) If there was a system in the school that may not be obvious, or something on the timetable that was a routine event but may be confusing for someone new to the school.
However, there are elements I wish that the NQT would know or do.
Be willing to talk, don’t be afraid to share when things don’t go well. In my experience if I had had a difficult day with the children, everybody else had too. Usually to do with the wind speed or phase of the moon.
If there are things they don’t understand the first time, ask again. I never minded answering the same question 3 times, but when the system falls down and parents start demanding to know why little Johnny’s home reading book had not been checked for 3 days, it is a more painful process for all involved.
Ask for help. It doesn’t have to be the mentor, but someone you know and someone you feel comfortable talking to. Hopefully they will give the right advice, or reassure you that speaking to the mentor is the right thing to do.
Speak up before you hit the floor. Don’t keep things inside. It is always so much easier to catch people on the way down than it is to pick them back up off the floor.
I have learned something from every NQT I have ever mentored and each one has shaped my professional journey and given me new skills and ideas to improve the provision for the next NQT to follow.
A Mentor, mentee relationship is an interesting one, but done right it can have a really positive impact on the professional development of both parties and you can both emerge as better teachers and practitioners as a result.