teacher mentorship

Can teacher-mentorship help retain teachers?

Author
Smart Teachers Australia

We’re exploring ways to help support newly qualified and experienced teachers manage the highs and lows of teaching and stay in the profession. We recently caught up with Australian teacher Heather W., who shares how having a teacher-mentor helps her better manage her work/life balance, and relieves some of the daily stresses of the role. Read on for her story.

How a teacher-mentor helped me 

I came into teaching as a mature aged student, after first pursuing a career in editing. When I entered the teaching profession I found so many people simply assume I am experienced enough because of my age; but the transition between university and truly teaching on one’s own is seriously daunting.

Since returning home from England, I began teaching in public schools, and found the amount of support available to me as a teacher has almost been zero. 

I was privileged enough to have a friend, who I met outside work, take up the position of my unofficial mentor - a role she still champions today. She lives on the other side of town, and works in a different school and year level (I teach Secondary, she teaches Primary), but her support, even just to listen, has been invaluable in keeping me in the profession. 

In the school I most recently taught in, I felt at a loss for a support network. On top of the workload, classroom teachers were held 100% accountable for issues in the classroom and academic performance, rather than being able to escalate matters to coordinators and management level teachers. 

I spent a lot of my time reporting. As a data-driven person, I was constantly working on datasets, and the moment I finished one, a new data set needed to be inserted. After all of the reporting there was no time to de-stress or properly plan for lessons.

I was seriously considering making last year my last year of teaching, until my teaching friend and now mentor Steph F. stepped up and just was there to hear me out. After getting everything off my chest, she offered advice on differentiating, and changing behaviours. 

Simply having the reassurance that it wasn't just me who felt this way, and that it wasn't just the kids in the area I was teaching in, put me a little at ease. Once the initial shock of "Oh my goodness, I'm in a classroom by myself and I have no support" wore off, my job started to improve. I knew where I could take a step back from my workload, thanks to Steph saying "This isn't urgent. Do a few a night" and it did improve from there. 

Having support from a teacher friend and mentor is invaluable to me. I’m lucky to have someone in my life who understands the challenges of my job, and is available to listen and provide advice. Not every teacher is so fortunate, so there should be more support in schools for new and existing teachers. With less focus on constant data input, teachers can have more time to teach and spend less time on admin. 

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For more information on teacher mentorship, click here to learn about Teach For Australia’s Teacher Mentorship Development Program. 

For more tactics for improving work/life balance as a teacher read the following blog posts: