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Mentoring New Teachers Crucial to Survival of Speech/Debate

By Melissa Witt on December 20, 2021 hst Print

Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, teacher retention numbers have been alarming. AP News reporter Jocelyn Gecker wrote on September 22, 2021, that in addition to a nationwide decline in education professionals, “The stress of teaching in the COVID-19 era has triggered a spike in retirements and resignations.” Fewer new teachers are walking in the door, and more teachers are walking out of it.

Educators in general need more support, and mentoring new teachers is crucial to the survival of speech and debate. Such teachers and coaches often find themselves the sole representative of the teaching field on campus – and, in some cases, in the entire school district.

MindTools.com defines mentoring as “a relationship between two people with the goal of professional and personal development.” The focus in education is usually on the importance of relationships with students. The quotation “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care,” or some version of it, can be found in educational training materials, classrooms and teachers’ private journals everywhere.

The role of collegial relationships in competitive speech and debate is often lost to the competitive nature of the work. Colleagues may be seen as “the competition,” which has a very enemy- like connotation. Rethinking relationships with fellow coaches provides opportunities to build support and strengthen our competitive circuits by working together.

Mentoring helps lengthen the careers of all involved – new teachers with positive mentor relationships tend to stick around longer. They don’t feel like they are all alone fighting the challenges of an educator. They have someone to help guide them, give them tools – such as curriculum guides, coaching tips, fundraising ideas, etc. Mentors also benefit from the relationship – mentees have just completed their teacher training and are updated on the latest educational models, theories and technologies. Spending time with someone less weathered from the fight can refresh one’s vision as an educator.

Another aspect of the MindTools definition is that it includes personal in addition to professional development. It’s one thing to share teaching tools; it’s a deeper level of investment to help someone grow as an individual in the profession. Sharing how you handle defeat, how you approach discipline on your team, how you institute ethical expectations with your students – these are harder conversations, but worth the time.

If a struggling new teacher doesn’t have help, that individual might not see the best options. And if that individual doesn’t and another teacher and coach is lost, that’s a team without a coach, kids who cannot compete, opportunities lost. Positive mentoring can make all the difference.

The Do’s of Mentoring

  1. Make the offer. Let your principal know you are willing to student-teach new educators (especially speech and debate teachers), let your organization know you are willing to mentor new coaches, let a new speech and debate teacher in your community know you are there to help.
  2. Take the time to meet with them in person. Sending lesson plans and important dates/reminders via email is great, but take them to coffee, too. Let them see that you are sincere in your desire to help them and get to know them.
  3. Help them develop a professional identity. They might have more in common socially with their students’ generation, and need help creating their professional persona and creating an appropriate distance between themselves and students. Help them with the transition to becoming a responsible adult.
  4. Make Introductions. Introduce new coaches to other coaches, and make them feel a welcomed part of the community.
  5. Model best practices. Be someone they can look up to – when your team is winning and when they are losing, when personality conflicts arise in the tabroom, when judges do questionable things. When any of the myriad challenges happen, be someone they can look to for guidance.
  6. Model gratitude. When that mentee teaches you how to use Flip Grid, say, “Thank you.” When another coach helps you navigate Tabroom.com, say, “Thank you.” Model gratitude in this community of volunteer leaders. The people working tabrooms every weekend, judging rounds and leading sessions at conferences – are all volunteering. They aren’t getting paid to serve in these leadership roles. Say, “thank you” a lot. And model that gratitude by being gracious. Don’t assume the worst of your leadership; volunteer where you can, and support those doing the work.

The Don’ts of Mentoring

  1. Don’t wait for them to ask. We’ve all been there - in the middle of the first years of teaching, drowning in paperwork and teen angst, trying to look like we know what we are doing - and we don’t ask for help. And they won’t necessarily ask for help when they need it.
  2. Don’t try to control their decisions. This is their time to learn and grow. Allow them to make decisions for themselves even if it’s not the decision you would make. Let them try things out on their own, and be supportive in their successes and failures. Simply let them know you are in their corner and want them to succeed.
  3. Don’t take credit for their success or failure. Let them own their successes and failures. Your role is to assist and support, but they have to do the work. Just as you will not get the trophies when they win, you cannot shoulder the blame if they fail.
  4. Don’t overwhelm them. Just as in the classroom, you cannot teach everything on day one. Help them determine what they want to prioritize, and start with what they need to be successful there. Maybe it’s limiting events offered, or setting up a viable tournament schedule for their first year.

In this challenging profession, sharing your wisdom, knowledge and experience with new teachers will provide benefits for everyone involved, especially the students. Help young coaches continue the work of helping kids find their voice.