by Julie Dodd
JEA Mentoring Committee co-chair

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The ┬áheadline of “Boosting Teacher Morale” caught my attention when I read the links of the latest online education of Edutopia, the digital newsletter from the George Lucas Educatonal Foundation.

As we work with new teachers, we need to remember that teacher morale affects so much about what happens in the schools — the performance of students in class and whether the teacher even stays in teaching.

In the JEA Mentoring Academy training, Nick Ferentinos leads a session that discusses the ebb and flow of the school year in terms of teacher morale. That session was helpful for all of us to realize when the surf is up in terms of a teacher’s enthusiasm — at the beginning of a new semester, for example. That’s the time to suggest new projects. And then to realize the down times in the school year.

Now is one of the low-tide times in the school year, according to “Boosting Teacher Morale,” as teachers are involved in state testing, all the pressure of Race to the Top competition may be draining, the school year seems to be going on and on.

“Boosting Teacher Morale” is a collection of blog posts on the topic with commentary from Matt Guthrie, who is a middle school math and science teacher.

So what’s some of the advice that we can use in working with new teachers? Here are four tips from Matt with a JEA mentoring perspective from me.

1. Help the new teacher find something positive to celebrate and showcase, no matter how small.
A mentor can help with that. Often the new teacher (or any of us who are teaching) is so caught up in the process that she doesn’t see what has been accomplished. As a mentor, you have been following your mentees’ progress, so you see what they may not recognize about what they are accomplishing. The staff is better at meeting deadlines or students are submitting letters to the editor. Point that out to the teacher and celebrate. If a student or the media program has received an award, encourage the teacher to send a notice to the local media.

2. In talking with the new teacher, have him talk about why he became a teacher in the first place.
In the midst of state-mandated testing or a moutain of papers to grade, the new teacher can forget about the desire to help students become better writers or grasp the value of the First Amendment.

3. Encourage the teacher to look for something new to do in the classroom — a technique, lesson plan, technology, strategy — novelty can sometimes help morale.
That’s something the JEA mentors certainly can bring to each of the new teachers they are working with. From years of teaching experience, mentors can guide a discussion to help the new teacher realize a new activity or technique. The mentors have a CD filled with teaching and advising materials that could be used. But the challenge is to let the teacher decide what to try new and not to overwhelm her with a dozen possible ideas or start the conversation by telling her what we’d suggest she try that’s new.

4. Get input from the students.
Encourage the mentee to lead a class discussion about what the students like most about being in a media class and how what they are learning is helping them in class and beyond — confidence in talking with people they don’t know (from interviewing and selling ads), computer skills (from InDesign to Photoshop), teamwork skills, etc. This conversation will be helpful for the students, too, as they may be feeling burdened by state testing, college applications, etc.

And the same four points can help us as mentors if we are feeling at low tide in our mentoring. These strategies — reframed in terms of mentoring — can help us be re-energized for our work with our mentees.