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
The Don’ts of Mentoring
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.
Melissa Witt is a high school speech and debate teacher and yearbook advisor at Hereford (Texas) High School. She dedicates this article to her own mentors: Connie McKee, Ann Shofner, Guy P. Yates, Dr. Leigh Browning, M’Liss Hindman, Teresa Lee Galiazzo, Jill Guillian, Cynthia Savely and Joyce Eddings. Witt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.