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A Bridge of Success Over the Rapids of Survival

By Todd J. Simmers, Polk County Schools, TRST, i3 Full Release Mentor 

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A few years ago, I was able to jump out of a perfectly good airplane. My excitement to do something I always wanted to do was overwhelming, and my expectations for the experience was unmatched compared to anything I had ever done before.

I had always been enamored with the sky and as luck would have it my cousin Clint is professional skydiver for Red Bull. I had played this moment in my head countless times, planning every detail, as I would be traveling alone. When I arrived to the drop zone, everything I had watched and read disappeared as fear began to immediately set in. However, as I walked up to the staging zone, my trepidations were replaced with relief as I met my cousin who had made over 10,000 jumps. He reassured me that all would be fine and went over the different procedures I would need to follow. He basically broke it down into three simple steps: have a good arch, pull the cord at 5000 feet, and land. Clint spoke the lingo, understood how the parachute operated, and was familiar with the other people at the drop zone. Having him there really set my mind at ease. In fact, he changed the entire experience for me and without him as a guide I would have probably never had the courage to take the leap of faith from 13,000 feet above.

The jump I participated in is known as a Tandem Skydive. This involves a very experienced skydiver, who is harnessed to a novice jumper. What I learned is that skydiving is a very calculated act, performed by a highly trained individual like my cousin. As rational human beings we would never just put on a parachute and jump, so why do we expect new teachers to do exactly that?

A new teacher’s experience can be very similar. When we come into the profession we have read books, watched educational shorts, and have planned our perfect classroom environments. However, as soon as we arrive, practical theory collides with applicable practice, and the novice teacher is set up to drown in the unpredictable rapids in the river of teaching. Having a highly trained mentor as a guide empowers a novice teacher, together building a bridge to succeed, rather than merely attempting to survive alone.

The ongoing continuous support from a mentor not only increases teacher practice, it also improves teacher retention. One of the primary byproducts of supporting a novice teacher is providing skills and strategies to overcome the growing pains that contribute to teachers leaving the profession before they even begin. These strategies strengthen the teacher’s ability to reflectively think, and strategical address areas to professionally improve. Moreover, these improvement areas if not appropriately addressed, typically multiply, creating unbearable stress for an isolated new teacher. However, an experienced guide, in the form of a mentor, decreases work related stressors for the new teacher, and this greatly improves the teacher’s social and emotional wellbeing. The ability to positively improve the new teacher’s physical environment leads to emotional stability.

The perpetual collaboration between a mentor and mentee allows the new teacher to shift their focus towards student learning over a shorter period of time, as well.  A mentor brings practical approaches to standard driven learning design, with a strategic focus to increase student engagement. They create vital checkpoints to formatively assess student learning. Theses shared pedagogical practices speed up the learning curve for the novice teacher which, ultimately, improves the students’ learning environment. Additionally, mentors utilizes an overarching and strategic approach, known as the “coaching cycle,” that benefits mentees by providing consistent and timely feedback on their teaching and learning practices. Through these reflective conversations, mentors and mentees generate next steps to improve the lessons through observational feedback, which virtually would never happen if isolated.

Personally, I believe one of the greatest benefits of the New Teacher Center’s Induction Program is how the mentor and mentee have a symbiotic relationship. I, personally, have greatly improved my knowledge and skills in the educational field. This can most certainly be contributed to how our interactions foster reflective conversations, generate discussions about teaching and learning strategies, and initiate the development of common goals to help our students improve. I have often applied the following saying on my quest to be a lifelong learner: “If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together!”

As I reflect back to my personal leap of faith, I would have never found the courage, and may not have literally survived, without an expert to guide me. Conversely, I had one of the most enriching experiences of my life. Likewise, I believe new teachers positively benefit from having highly trained, expert mentors as their personal educational guides. Therefore, let us not leave this leap of faith that new educators make to happenstance. Let us, instead, collaboratively work to ensure new teachers receive the proper guidance and support they deserve.

The New Teacher Center has helped me continue my journey as a lifelong learner, and through this opportunity I hope to empower others to always strive to continuously learn and improve!  


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