The Good Mentor: Are You up For the Challenge? by Lisa Michelle Dabbs

Part of the series: Global Issues in Education

Mentoring is a term that we hear a lot these days. It’s a part of the fabric of so many institutions. Yet it’s still a huge piece that’s missing for so many young teachers and those new to the education profession. Why is that? With so many great teachers around…Why are we lacking in good mentors?
Why aren’t we making the time to mentor? Is it too much work? Is it too challenging? Is it that we think we don’t have much to bring to the table? What is a good mentor? What qualities does a good mentor have? For that matter, what is “mentoring”? Take a moment to come up with your own definition. Are you thinking?
Do you view mentoring as a very structured, focused practice? A program? Or is it a collaboration, a holding hands of sorts? Did you have a mentor? Someone who had a positive, enduring impact on your career? Do you have one now? Are you mentoring anyone currently in your practice?

Losing Hope…

I’m new to blogging and started a few months back. The dream for my blog is to chronicle through photos, interviews and a few words, what amazing teachers are doing to “teach with soul”. I’ve begun to connect with great teachers who are willing to allow me to photograph them as they teach their lessons and then talk about how they keep their passion. I’ll then use this blog photo/journal as a medium to mentor. It’s a work in progress.
Along the way in my blogging journey, I began to explore the notion of mentoring. I began to reflect on my work as an educator, trying to recall the people in my past who mentored me. While I doing this, I came up with an acronym that I call IMET: Inspring, Mentoring, Equipping Teachers (to teach well!). It encapsulated for me what I believe a true mentor does. Unfortunately, with all the challenges we are facing in education, I haven’t been able to find too many educators that are taking the time to truly IMET.
Case in point…I came upon the post on a very public blog, of a new teacher, a few months ago. The post was entitled “Losing hope”…
The teacher in the post will remain anonymous, but the cry for help is typical of many, young, creative, enthusiastic teachers I’ve met over the years. Starting their careers passionate about teaching, only to be cut off at the knees by one simple fact: the lack of a mentor who was willing to support, guide and inspire.
The teacher starts the post by saying that they had a dream. A dream to be the best teacher they could be. To be the kind of teacher that students would be in inspired by. Unfortunately, there were no clear expectations set for this teacher, and worse, no support. This teacher’s perception was that they would be supported, as a first year teacher. Not an unfair expectation by any means. Instead they were placed in a “sink or swim” position. So this teacher sank. This is absolutely not what you do to new teachers.
Here is just a bit of the response that I posted to this young teacher who asked for “positive and encouraging words”:
“When I read your words, “I believe I was under the illusion that I had support and help from all angles, when in reality, I hadn’t felt more alone and lost.” My heart went out to you. I was an elementary school principal for 14 years. During those years I consistently spent time mentoring, supporting, guiding my teachers. It’s truly my passion. If you read the research on why young people like yourself leave the teaching profession, it turns out that it is exactly for those reasons you describe. A school should work to foster a culture where its teachers collaborate and learn from one another. This is at the heart of how educators grow as professionals. Some of my colleagues still struggle with this piece. I apologize. We need to do much better.”
“I entered the teaching profession in my early twenties as a Kindergarten teacher. I was fortunate to have come from a long line of educators. However, I still encountered a great deal of frustration and anxiety in my first year. The kicker is I too felt very alone, as I did not have a supportive principal, or mentor colleague. I was new to the school. My kinder team members believed in “kill and drill” for Kindergarten kids and I was mortified! In addition to that, no one on staff had a Child Development degree. As a result they were not pleased when I began to talk about child development issues and how those directly influenced how children learn and should be allowed to develop. The use of hands-on learning opportunities vs. paper pencil tasks was not well received. The bottom line is that my first few years were rough! Did I have a mentor teacher? No. Was it hard? Extremely. But I kept pressing forward because I believed in myself and cared deeply for my students.”

Mentors Offer Hope

As I finished my response, I couldn’t help but find myself deeply frustrated at the lack of mentoring support we are providing, even now, to those new to the profession. I was frustrated with the fact that this enthusiastic new teacher, fell and no one was there to pick her up. Why did I have to struggle alone in those early years of teaching? Why did this teacher lose Hope? We know so much more now about how to retain and support new teachers. So where was her mentor? No new teacher should have this experience or stick it out alone. Teachers need a good mentor (or two) in order to support their success. A mentor can provide the help that can turn the tide for a new teacher. The research is very clear on this fact.
ASCD and Ed Leadership have some great insights. Their research finds: Mentors offer acceptance, guidance, instructional support, hope, and optimism to new teachers. Mentors offer a model of continuous learning. As a mentor works to be transparent with their own professional growth, this is observable to the mentee. They share their new found knowledge in a collegial way with beginning teachers. I also would add that mentors can offer a wealth of supportive online resources such as education websites, lesson plans, blogs, Twitter, Nings (such as the Educators PLN) and fabulous e-books. There are many pieces of research and ideas out there as to why the need for preparing, identifying, having mentors is growing, including some amazing mentor training programs. Just touched on a few here, but hope you’ll seek them out. I hope you’ll be inspired to reach out and be a good mentor.
One last thought: Many new teachers are reluctant to seek out a mentor for fear that this will be seen as a sign of weakness.
Tenured educators: Let’s put a stop to that idea now and help them to see it as a strength. I believe with all my heart that they’re counting on us to take the lead.


Take just 2 minutes and watch this video. View it through the eyes of your teaching and mentoring potential.

What will be your finest hour? Will you reach out, look inward, step forward and mentor? Will you take up the challenge?

Lisa Profile Pic 001Lisa Michelle Dabbs is an Educational Consultant, with a B.A. in Child Development and M. Ed. in Educational Administration. Her career includes: ES/MS teacher, Project Director of a Title VII Language and Literacy program, 14 yrs as an elementary school principal, Kaplan K-12 Education~Middle School Instructional Literacy Coach/Consultant, and Graduate Level adjunct professor. She is passionate about non-profit work and serves as a member on two boards. Currently she is mentoring teachers as Facilitator at New Teacher Connections Group on She is Blogging at and tweets by the handle @teachingwthsoul.