Week 4.4: Mentors

Week 4.4: Mentors

Who do you consider to be your greatest mentor in life? How about your greatest mentor for your professional job? If you can name several people that you look up to, but cannot name someone who helps you professionally to become a better teacher, than that means you should be on the hunt for a mentor.

What we’re looking for in this post is the “Goldilocks” mentor. This is someone whose knowledge level is “just right” for mentoring. For example, we’ll take a Social Studies teacher in their 6th year of teaching. This teacher is experienced, has developed many classroom activities that consistently engage students, and has a demeanor that focuses on the classroom work rather than how the classroom is run (see last week’s post, Student Led Discipline). For this teacher to find an effective mentor, they will need to look for someone with neither too little or too much experience in the field of Social Studies teaching.

Too little, and the person won’t be able to relate to your work enough to suggest useful new things to try. Too much, and the person will likely be too “stuck” in their ways to recognize the changes you need to make to improve as a teacher.


One of my pet peeves is how difficult it is to find someone open to trading classroom ideas with me. I like to see teachers branching out of their subject matter, considering off-site learning experiences, experimenting with ways to teach new material, and generally getting away from textbooks and essays. Most importantly though, a mentor should be someone that you trust enough to bring your problems to. Education stops at the door if you rely on academic teaching approaches that do not connect with the students. It is impossible to improve as a teacher if you are not willing to admit your mistakes; even something as simple as, “I showed a bias when explaining that law and didn’t discuss the other side.”

So, when looking for a mentor, try to find one who is the least judgemental. I bet that when you thought of your greatest mentor in life, it has more to do with what kind of person the mentor is rather than what they do or what they have accomplished. Kindness is key. And I have just invalidated my analogy to Goldilocks because she is obviously an extremely judgemental person. Everything has to be just right!

So look for a balanced mentor, put those feelers out there, and find someone you can talk to professionally. Hopefully, the working relationship you develop will markedly improve how you teach, no matter what stage of experience you are at.


Have a good mentor story? Share by commenting or emailing teachingismadhard@gmail.com.



You don’t see many resources that advocate for experienced teachers still having a mentor, so check this out in the business world. Lifelong learners, remember! https://hbr.org/2015/04/ceos-need-mentors-too

Next week: Interviewing: Between the Lines

Week 4.2: Public, Private, or Other?

Week 4.2: Public, Private, or Other?

I absolutely love how many forms of K-12 education there are in the United States. Government education policies are operating in a “one size fits all” mentality, but teachers, parents, nonprofits, grant-makers, and students are operating in a “variety is the spice of life” mentality. While I don’t have the requisite knowledge to explain why education at the federal level is so disconnected from the teacher’s level; or why a school in one town is so differently run from the next school 20 miles away; I can explain a bit about the different types. This list is all in the hope that a teacher looking for a job will know what atmosphere they can expect.

All of these forms of education are student-centered, but we’ll begin with the most student-centered of all.

Home Schooling: 

A controversial form of education if ever there was one. Pros: The student has all the personal attention they could ever want. The student can work at their own speed. Cons: The student has a more difficult time socializing and misses out on school-organized events, such as sports, clubs, and dances. The student may not experience the same routine of assignments, exams, and presentations that are meant to transition to college work.

Interviewing: For teachers, it isn’t a job option 🙂

Online School:

First it didn’t exist, then it wasn’t taken very seriously, then it was used by people in remote locations or by adults pursuing a college degree, now it is becoming a viable option for everyone. Unless you are a teacher using an online forum as part of your on-site class; or teaching one online course as a way of supplementing your income, I don’t recommend it, for only one reason: you don’t experience the human component of interacting with your students face-to-face. I write a blog, and assume that my words don’t always capture my meaning, no matter how hard I try. Think how much more difficult it would be with a 50 person online course!

Interviewing: Prepare a response about how you will best reach students via online discussion, about how you will deal with poorly-written or angrily-written posts, and about your familiarity with technology.

Private School:

Also known as “where the rich people go.” Parents who have the resources to pay tuition for 12 YEARS may choose to send their student to a private school. The pros are many: students receive more personal attention, students and parents are more likely to take part in extracurriculars, the school often hosts all-school learning or volunteer projects. The only con in this part of education is entitlement. It can be difficult working with, for lack of a better term, “spoiled” students, because they have a sense that the world revolves around them. For the most part however, you can simply ignore the designer labels and enjoy the “anything is possible” atmosphere.

Interviewing: Use all of your typical teacher preparation, and include some creative ideas for your classroom that include a method of opening your students’ minds to the world around them.


Charter School:

This is the one type of school that I have never personally worked in. From observing other teachers and schools, I can say that I am very intrigued by charter schools. In many ways, they seem to combine the best of public and private schools. Pros: smaller, student-centered, friendly environment. Cons: Lack of state support. A charter school may receive funding from the government, but may have restrictions on sport leagues, state music ensembles, and other participation in public school offerings. It is important to find the right balance of parental involvement in the classroom – some charter schools may feel too overloaded by individual ideas, whereas some seem exactly like a public school.

Interviewing: Do your research about the school. If the school offers extracurriculars, that is a good sign for the finances and capabilities of the school.

Public School:

The most accessible form of education, public school systems exist everywhere, including in small towns in Nebraska with a population of 300 and in Texas where the freshman class alone may be over 400 students. Public schools are the most closely-related to government policy, and are not funded by student tuition. Curriculum mapping is a constant project for the teacher, and writing lesson plans that reference state or federal requirements is common. Some are successful, some are not; some have metal detectors and fighting in the hallways, some do not. Generally, as a teacher you will have a mixture of everything: students who range from failing to straight-A grades, both a budget and fundraising, older policies that you want to change and newer policies that you want to change.

Interviewing: Do your research! For example, if the principal talks mainly about test scores, that tells you something about the school environment.

International School:

Also known as “where the rich expats go.” See “Private Schools” but also know that international schools can vary from any other US or IB school because of the lack of U.S. policy and curriculum. An international school can be the most experimental, exploratory place for teachers and students, and can be either amazing or horrifying. I do have some experience in teaching in an international school overseas, and I invite you to email me at teachingismadhard@gmail.com for more information about pursuing these positions.

When job searching, the teacher may have all the options in the world, or need to take the first job offered. I simply hope that as you develop your teacher personality, you will discover the forum that best suits you. There isn’t one “right” way to teach. There are thousands! Have fun experimenting!

I would love to hear from you on your experiences with different types of schools! Comment below or email teachingismadhard@gmail.com!

Next week: Student-Led Discipline