Tag Archives: mentorship

Admit That We Don’t Know Everything: What New Teachers Need from Veteran Teachers

This post is written by member Amanda Wallace.

 I remember my first years of teaching. I taught 6th grade at a small K–8 school in rural North Carolina. I also remember not really knowing my beliefs about the best way to work with students. Some of my colleagues were focused not only on what the students were learning, but if the students came prepared with pencils and paper. They had elaborate systems for discipline and used silent lunch to punish students for lack of work. I can remember trying on the stifling persona of the “tough as nails” teacher, fearing that if I let my students know my weaknesses (sometimes I make mistakes) I would lose control of my classroom. My biggest fear, of course, was that I would be deemed incompetent by other faculty members.

What helped me find my way were my principal and my mentor teacher, who both acted as mentors. Because it was a small school, they were able to nurture me through the fear and frustration that can overwhelm a new teacher. I remember my mentor saying, “Honey, I’m on year twenty, and I still don’t always know what I’m doing.” My principal taught me to slow down and look at things from multiple perspectives. I thought I had to be “fair, firm and consistent,” and if a student stepped out of line, I had to dole out immediate punishment so I would earn students’ respect. Eventually, I learned to find my own style. The firm disciplinarian mold did not fit me well, but I found my own way, somewhere in the middle.

I am now finishing year twenty. Some days I still feel like I’m not really sure I know what I’m doing, but I go back to whatever problem I’m having with a class and try something new. New teachers need to see that even veteran teachers feel unsure and vulnerable. After years of observations and parent scrutiny, many of us veteran teachers have developed such thick skin that we begin to see our methods and our educational view as the only ones worthy or right. When new teachers think veteran teachers have all the answers, they are left feeling inadequate and insecure. If they cannot meet these perceived expectations, many times they leave teaching for good.

So I resolve to talk about my weaknesses to new teachers, student teachers, interns, and even my students. As a mentor, I will help new teachers find the teaching style that fits them, but also help them be aware that sometimes even twenty years into their career, they will still feel like they have no idea what they are doing, and that is okay. We will try a new strategy tomorrow.

Amanda Wallace teaches English at Watauga High School in Boone, NC. She is certified in middle grades education and high school language arts, and she has a master’s degree in reading education from Appalachian State University. She is also Nationally Board Certified in language arts. Amanda has been a cooperating teacher with the Teaching Excellence and Achievement Program since 2011. She participated in the Watauga Pakistan Exchange Program in 2014, and she was awarded a fellowship with Teachers for Global Classrooms in 2015, a year-long program which culminated with a field experience in the Philippines. She is currently a teacher fellow with Hope Street Group’s North Carolina Teacher Voice Network.​​ She is a member of her school’s PLT leadership team and a mentor teacher. Her main focus is integrating global competency into high school English classrooms.

Part 2: How I Stayed in Teaching

This post (the second of two parts) is written by member Lorena Germán. You can read the first part here

lorena-german-2-2-2After teaching at my alma mater for several years, I was exhausted. I was exhausted with the oppressive structure and the feeling of powerlessness as I watched mistreatment of students occur at the hands of teachers, administrators, and the overall system. I saw teachers abuse students verbally and even straddle the “physical abuse” fence. I saw decisions made that were not at all in the best interests of the student. I saw adults blindly follow rules and policies because we all felt powerless to a certain extent. There were days when I felt a part of the problem and not a part of the solution. I watched co-workers leave year after year; the turnover was probably the only constant considering new trends, new curricula, new school leaders, and new projects.

In my last year at that school, I learned about NCTE’s Early Career Educator of Color Leadership Award, but I hesitated to apply. I was unsure if I would get it and if it would be beneficial. Ultimately, I applied and then forgot about it until June, when I was at graduate school and received a notice that I was one of the six cohort members that year. Beyond being excited, I felt acknowledged and respected. Acceptance into this program was an affirmation that my passion was being recognized and appreciated.

My mentor, Anna J. Roseboro, was a great mentor and she helped me that year when I was home and pregnant and strongly reconsidering returning to the classroom. I couldn’t go back and deal with that intensity or the oppressive system anymore. Through our conversations and her support, she helped me remember my passion for teaching. She didn’t know what I was thinking or feeling, but her comments kept reminding me of my love for the craft.

The project I took on with my cohort was meaningful, and I really enjoyed synthesizing all of our research and ideas. We presented at the 2015 NCTE Annual Convention in Minneapolis on redefining texts and identifying multicultural texts for use in the classroom. Our presentation was strong and our work was important. It was such a powerful experience for me, and it came at the right time. I’ll always be grateful to the people I met through this experience who continue to be mentors in some way: Anna J. Roseboro, Dr. Mila Fuller, Dr. Isabel Baca, Dr. Tonya Perry, and my cohort members. Through this award, I have expanded my professional network, found a sustained motivation for my career, and acquired the drive to grow and think big.

Lorena Germán is a twelfth-year Dominican American educator working with young people in Austin, Texas. She has been published by NCTE, ASCD, EdWeek, and others and is an active member of the Bread Loaf Teacher Network. An NCTE Early Career Educator of Color Leadership Award recipient, Lorena is a wife, mami, teacher, and writer.   Follow her on Twitter @nenagerman.  

Mentors Help New Teachers Manage

This post is written by member Anna J. Small Roseboro. 

annaroseboroWhy do so many early career English Language Arts teachers leave before their fifth year as classroom teachers? No, it’s not because of salary. They know teaching is one of the lowest paid professional jobs in our country. No, it’s not because of inadequate academic preparation. Our colleges of education prepare our new colleagues well. No, it’s not the long hours adapting lessons or grading papers. Men and women planning to teach English Language Arts know about this labor-intensive component. So, what’s the issue?


annaroseborostressometerConsider your first years as a classroom teacher: There are only 168 hours each week, and preparing and teaching in K–12 classrooms easily consume 50 percent of those hours. What time is left for family, friends, and fun? Yes, the reason people leave teaching is the tyranny of time. Thankfully, there are numerous ELA teachers reading this blog who have learned to manage their time, remain in the profession for lengthy careers, and leave—successful and satisfied with their career choice. What was the key? Developing personal relationships with mentors who demonstrated ways to balance personal and professional lives showing us when to push, when to pull, and when the step back and rest.

annaroseboroceeThe new Commission to Support Early Career English Language Arts Teachers is a group within the Conference on English Education (CEE). We’re here to support not only new teachers, but also college of education (COE) professors who can become overwhelmed trying to sustain the level of personal attention they give their current and former students. COE educators also have only 168 hours per week but know that their recent graduates still have questions and concerns that, if unanswered can lead to frustration, discouragement, and a sense of worthlessness that drive well-educated, highly motivated teachers to abandon the profession.

This CEE Commission is collaborating on the launch of the online Early Career Community of Practice (on Connected Community). Here, novice and veteran educators can meet, greet, post questions and concerns within the group, and when appropriate, migrate into one-on-one pairings using email, Hangouts, Facetime, and other technology to address more personal and private issues.

Yes, online mentoring works. Since 2008, I’ve been a part of the NCTE Early Career Educators of Color program and have had the privilege of working with novice educators across the nation and in China. As a mentor for the Conference on English Leadership’s Emerging Leaders Fellowship, I communicate regularly with a teacher now working in Abu Dhabi.

annaroseboropeopleSo, take this as an invitation. College of education professors, urge your students and recent graduates to reach out for help. Early career educators, join the community of your peers knowing that veteran educators are there for you. Retired educators, join the community of early career educators and share experiences as you respond to their questions and offer your shoulders for support. All of us need all of us to ensure that we continue to develop the strong, confident educators needed to teach our students to be there for us when we need them!

ANNA J. SMALL ROSEBORO, NBCT, a retired educator, is a published poet who mentors early career educators.  She is a regular speaker at NCTE and CATE, has articles in juried professional journals, and her books serve as texts in colleges of education and handbooks for transitioning teachers. NCTE awarded her the 2016 Distinguished Service Award at the convention in Atlanta. Roseboro, a mother of three children, lives in Western Michigan with her husband. 


A Safe Space for New Beginnings

This is written by Juan Guerra, Anna Roseboro, and Lara Hebert. 

When we share our stories, we notice patterns of sameness and difference that can inform our decisions moving forward.

juanguerraWhen I walked into my first classroom in 1973 as a teacher in a college writing program for minority students at the University of Illinois at Chicago, I had no idea where to begin. At the time, there was no mentoring program in place to prepare us for the experience. Luckily, a colleague in the program who had several years of experience as a teaching assistant while he was working on his PhD interceded and provided me with material to read and suggestions for how to manage and organize my class. Among the first books he shared with me was Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Little did I know that Freire’s book and my colleague’s support would not only help me get through that first experience in the classroom, it would shape my perspective on teaching for many years to come. I will be forever grateful to my first mentor for his encouragement because I don’t think I would have continued teaching otherwise. ~Juan Guerra, longtime NCTE member, 2016-17 Trustee of the NCTE Research Foundation and CNV Director

annaroseboroIn 1987, having recently moved to California, I transitioned from teaching in public schools to a former boarding school for girls being prepped to attend Ivy League colleges. I was the first African American faculty member. Though I’d come to the position with experience teaching middle and high school English in Missouri, New York, and Massachusetts, the students, faculty, and parent volunteers looked askance as I crisscrossed the campus. It was the department chair, an NCTE member, who seemed to value my public school experience. It was she who invited me, her new teacher, to share lessons incorporating multicultural literature into our curriculum. Her acceptance and leadership opened the doors to other opportunities that led to my becoming department chair … twelve years later … still the lone African American member of the faculty. ~Anna Roseboro, lifetime NCTE member, winner of the 2016 Distinguished Service Award

hebert_photoWhen I first stepped into my own classroom, my sixth-grade teammates, all experienced teachers, also found themselves in a state of transition. The district’s sixth-grade classrooms were moving from an elementary, self-contained model to a middle school teaming model for instruction. This put us on common ground as we learned about the middle school philosophy and designed our own iteration that would initiate the shift of the school from being a junior high toward becoming a middle school. Despite my limited classroom experience, my teammates respected and honored my contributions as equal and even necessary to our success in this first year. While there was no formal mentoring or induction program other than a couple hours of inservice at the beginning of the year, these teachers offered the support and encouragement that I needed by treating me as an equal and valued part of the team, innovating and taking risks together. ~Lara Hebert, NCTE Professional Learning Specialist, Community Facilitator–Literacy in Learning Exchange

At the Early Career Experiences Practice Exchange during NCTE’s 2016 Convention, we began the session with participants sharing their own peak transition stories: those times when we were first starting out in the profession or moving to a new role or position. When we looked across these stories, we found common characteristics bubbling to the surface within our pool of “best of” experiences (adapted from this Peak Experience protocol).

These are the themes compiled by practice exchange participants in November:

Feeling at ease and welcomed

Opportunities to give back

Embracing risk-taking

Creativity and freedom

Mentorship and support, professional and personal

Mentors as risk-takers

Acknowledging room for growth for everyone


We aspire to hold these components in mind as we think about navigating the tensions and dilemmas we experience early in our careers, as well as in times of transition. Below, we want to introduce you to more of the outcomes of our November conversations and then invite you to join us in keeping the conversation going and growing.

After identifying characteristics of “best of” early-career supports, we collectively identified a number of tensions that we have personally encountered during new beginnings; whether we are just entering the profession or moving to a new position or role, we can all relate to these tensions in some shape or form. Things like

  • striking the right balance between our personal and professional lives
  • deciding when to adapt versus when to adopt
  • honoring the expert and the novice simultaneously present in all of us
  • balancing internal and external supports or networks
  • deciding when to navigate and when to negotiate when beliefs conflict with requirements
  • balancing student needs and teacher needs
  • “avoiding the teachers’ lounge” versus the need to build relationships

Are there others you would add to this list?


Last, but most importantly, we engaged in deeper discussions around just a few of these tensions that mattered most to us at the time. We considered together “What would this look if we got it right?” and “What would it take for us to get there?” This is where holding those “best of” characteristics in mind will help us to think toward the future rather than getting bogged down in the present and the past.

Our practice exchange conversations just scraped the surface, so we hope you will join us to continue engaging around these questions and issues over time within the Early Career Community of Practice online space. We invite those in transition and those who support them into shared conversations about the issues, challenges, and successes unique to new beginnings. You might already be involved in an NCTE support initiative like Early Career Educators of Color, Cultivating New Voices, the Commission to Support Early Career English Language Arts Teachers, CEE and CEL initiatives, etc. We could use your voice in these conversations, and we have a couple of ways that you can get involved right away.

First, do you have a story of an early career or transition experience that illustrates a tension or dilemma like those mentioned? If so, please consider sharing it here (250 words or less). These illustrations will help us determine which tensions and dilemmas to discuss next.

Second, come and join the Early Career Community of Practice discussions. Because the issue of time was so prominent during the practice exchange, we decided to start with conversations related to the Tyranny of Time. We are thinking together about that balance of personal with professional and about strategies to avoid becoming overwhelmed at this halfway point in the academic year. Anna Roseboro kicks us off with recommendations for making the most of mid-year reflections, goal setting, and the juggling act involved in meeting those goals. Bring your questions and your recommendations as we respond to Anna’s query that asks us reflect on the following quote from James Patterson’s Suzanne’s Diary for Nicholas:

Imagine life is a game in which you are juggling five balls. The balls are called work, family, health, friends, and integrity. And you’re keeping all of them in the air. But one day you finally come to understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. The other four balls—family, health, friends, integrity—are made of glass. If you drop one of these, it will be irrevocably scuffed, nicked, perhaps even shattered.

Welcome to the Creative Revolution!

The following guest post is by author e.E. Charlton-Trujillo, one of our featured speakers on the Authors as Advocates panel at the 2016 Annual Convention.

Photo by Howard Wells III

There is a creative revolution rising up in this country’s youth, a revolution fought with a pen and paper, a camera, a paintbrush—the spoken word on a stage electrifying a room with hope, with anger, with political and personal commentary, with an awareness that young people cannot and must not be counted out.

My writing and life’s work is about empowering voice in those who often feel they have none. The quick label for this kind of kid is “at-risk.” Being at-risk means that an obstacle, or a series of them, prevents a young person from reaching their potential. Poverty, abuse, homelessness, mental health challenges, ethnicity, class, teen pregnancy, incarceration, and/or even lack of adult support can be factors. The thing to remember is that they are kids—kids who are in struggle and need you to meet them where they are.

charltontrujilloatrisksummerIn 2013, I set out across America to empower at-risk youth through free writing workshops and discussions couched in a hybrid book tour for my novel Fat Angie. This experience showed me the hunger and hurt young people experience on the path to validation. Their voices and stories inspired me to reach even deeper in my writing and activism for youth as I encouraged them to do the same.

From that tour experience came Never Counted Out, a nonprofit cofounded by myself and author C.G. Watson to continue creative mentorship for at-risk youth. It is a hub to bridge the gap between artists and youth, to provide books to young people around the country, and in the near future, to create and run art/leadership-centered camps.

The nonprofit is an extremely important part of my work, because as a one-time at-risk Mexican American kid growing up in poverty-stricken south Texas, I know access to creative mentorship would have curtailed some of my struggle. I believe this type of mentorship allows young people to see themselves as innovators and as curators of their own stories. To imagine themselves, whether they are Latinx, African American, Native American, Asian American, LGBTQ, gender nonconforming—however they move through this world—able to use their voices and their stories to reflect changes in the way we look at personal and artistic narratives.

This revolution is happening now. We must give all young people a place to be bold, to be loud, and to express themselves. Now more than ever, our young people need safe harbors in the adult world and infinite ways to speak and be heard. And I’m elated to discuss this at NCTE 2016. I am on fire!

Welcome to the Creative Revolution!

charltontrujilloauthor-posters-final-115x175-10Author, filmmaker, and motivational speaker e.E. Charlton-Trujillo has been deemed a “force of nature” by Kirkus Reviews. Known for her powerful writing and youth activism, Charlton-Trujillo’s  high energy Rock the Word workshops make her one of the most engaging authors speaking to young people today. Winner of the ALA Stonewall Award for Fat Angie, she has also penned three other critically praised, award-winning novels. Her award-winning feature documentary, At-Risk Summer, chronicles the stories of at-risk youth, interviews award-winning authors, and reveals her personal journey to empower change.

Find out more about her at: http://bigdreamswrite.com/