Mentoring support for NQTs | Education Support
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Mentoring and NQTs

Mentoring support for NQTs

11th March 2021

“My relationship with my mentor is so difficult. I feel like they have constantly taken the wind out of my sails since I started in my post. I feel like your mentor is supposed to be your cheerleader and instead mine has impacted on my mental health. I just want to quit.”
Anonymous Twitter message, March 2020

Sadly, I receive emails like the one above regularly on Twitter from NQTs and early career teachers who are struggling under the weight of training to be a teacher, alongside having an ineffective or unsupportive mentor.

Teaching is a rollercoaster of a career. In any one week there can be incredible highs juxtaposed against crushing lows. These feelings are exacerbated by the pandemic, where new teachers are increasingly working without the collegiate support of their colleagues. Experienced teachers are better able to manage as they have the wisdom of practice to be able to keep them in perspective. For new teachers however, the bad days can seem overwhelming, which is why the support of a mentor is so important so early in a teacher’s development.

Compassionate mentoring

There are many elements about being a teacher which are difficult for new entrants to the profession to get to grips with: the workload, behaviour issues and incessant accountability are all things that early career teachers will need additional support with. Not only do mentors need to be knowledgeable about their subject and pedagogical practices, as well as modelling excellent teaching to their mentees, they need to be compassionate listeners. In fact, when I interviewed over a hundred early career teachers while researching my book ‘Mentoring in Schools’, the majority of participants I questioned felt that compassion and being approachable were the two most important qualities that mentors should have.

This finding is hardly surprising when studies into stress amongst NQTs have asserted that it is a “normal part of teacher development and accepted as a natural element of the transition from novice to qualified teacher”. Teaching has consistently been ranked as a high stress occupation and one of the most frequently reported factors in causing this stress is the lack of support from colleagues and/or managers. Therefore, it is obvious why new teachers crave compassion from their mentors, as they want to build a positive professional relationship with them where they can not only ask for advice but can also have a listening ear if they need to talk about their struggles.

The effect of stress on the mental health and wellbeing of new teachers can not only cause fatigue and burnout but can also be a catalyst for behavioural changes such as anxiety, confused thinking, feelings of inadequacy and panic. If inexperienced teachers are left to deal with these feelings without support, they may suffer the same fate as the almost one in three teachers who quit the classroom before they have even seen five years’ service.

Building resilience

The most vital way a mentor can support their mentee is to teach them how to be resilient. Easier said than done, right? However, there are ways that mentors can help build this skill and it’s always better to lay the foundations for resilience by building a bedrock of reflexivity. Helping new teachers to know themselves and be aware of their own skills and aptitudes – as well as their weaknesses will enable them to build their own teacher identity and develop a strong sense of purpose.

Setting goals and targets and tracking progress towards these will help them to deal with challenges and setbacks and focus on the positives. In addition, making sure the new teacher feels part of a community of practice is absolutely essential. If we develop habits which nurture relationships, we strengthen our resilience. Being part of a team can be a source of strength for NQTs in what can be an incredibly lonely job and knowing that there is somebody there to listen and advise will give them the confidence to reach out for the support when they need it the most.

Haili Hughes is an English teacher, former Head of Department and Senior Leader who has mentored new teachers and ITT students for over ten years. Her new book ‘Mentoring in Schools’ ) is available here with 30% off until 31st March using code SPRING30 at checkout.  

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