The Reciprocal Benefits of Mentorship
The conventional wisdom is that what many young teachers lack in experience, they make up for with energy and enthusiasm; and what many older teachers lack in pep, they make up for with savvy and know-how. It stands to follow that a cross-pollination of these traits is of great benefit to both parties. And the good news is that this is easily accomplished through mentorship. Based on this recent reader survey on the topic, it seems that mentorship among vocal music educators is alive and well, with some 94 percent of responding choral directors indicating that they currently mentor other educators, while almost two thirds have a mentor themselves.
Read on as Choral Director readers pinpoint the specific teaching areas that benefit the most from mentorship, as well as methods for best establishing a mentor/mentee relationship.
Do you have someone whom you consider your mentor?
“I have been teaching for 18 years and still call on my cooperating teacher from student teaching for advice!! I was very fortunate to have such a wonderful mentor.”
Vestavia Hills High School
“Oftentimes, educators feel uncomfortable asking for help because they think that it will be seen as a weakness; but there is so much to learn from working with, or even being, a mentor.”
Central High School
Grand Junction, Colo.
“I have many people in the music profession that I go to for advice but I don’t have a mentor.”
Sister Lauretta Linsalata
Archbishop Ryan High School
Do you consider yourself a mentor to other educators?
“NJ has mandatory mentoring for first year teachers; I am one of those mentors in my district.”
Mt. Olive Middle School
Budd Lake, N.J.
“Recently, in particular, it has become a distinct honor to mentor former students who have become choral directors.”
Carrollton High School
Do you employ peer mentorship with any of your ensembles (older students helping younger students, student leadership, etc.)?
“In the Hampton Choirs, we have Big Brothers/Sisters to new choir members. Senior choir members are challenged to lead by example and to help ensure that new choir members get a solid indoctrination of the Hampton Choral Program.”
Royzell L. Dillard
“I do this an a fairly limited basis. About 25 percent of my students are new to my program every year. Those students who demonstrate leadership skills are given an opportunity to lead sections and/or vocal warm-ups. New students will also ask, and I give them a chance as well. It is interesting to watch their work and see their feeling of accomplishment.”
East High School
How about associations with area colleges – do you get assistance from (and help train) student teachers?
In what area is mentorship most useful?
“I feel mentorship is most important in classroom management, rehearsal planning, and pacing. Most young students need help with the selection of quality literature and the appropriateness of literature for specific age groups.”
Five Towns College
Dix Hills, N.Y.
“Learning to select quality music from the immense quantity of trash that litters the shelves of music stores is an extremely important skill.”
Mount Vernon City Schools
Mount Vernon, Ohio
Do you have any advice for building a relationship with a mentor/mentee?
“Establish goals right away – what does the mentee hope to get out of the relationship? How can you help to facilitate that? How quickly can you prepare the mentee to be ready to teach and be comfortable teaching? Make sure the mentee has the necessary skill set needed to get in front of a classroom. Be honest in your feedback.”
Amherst Regional Middle School
“Communication is the key to everything! Don’t drop the ball and assume they will call you. Call if you have a question and especially continue to call if you are the mentor. Even if it is just to grab a lunch together, building the relationship is so important!”
Hunter’s Creek Middle School
“There needs to be a mutual respect between the new or less experienced teacher and the ‘master’ teacher. Both can learn from each other!”
Nancy A. Fohn
West Plains, Mo.
“Set up a language of mentoring that includes observation look-fors. Talk about things like community building, questioning techniques, and choosing repertoire for the rehearsal rather than the performance. Begin by centering conversation based on teaching techniques rather than the mentee’s personal/individual performance. Share beliefs and ideas, then slowly lead and critique.”
University of Wyoming/Casper College
“I think empathy is most important in developing this relationship. An attitude of superiority is not conducive. There must be mutual trust and a spirit of collegiality.”
Susan F. Durham
Durant High School
Plant City, Fla.
Additional thoughts on mentorship in vocal music education?
“This is a very difficult profession in which to become proficient, in my opinion. There are so many aspects that require expertise. I know I wouldn’t have made it past the first few years without my mentor, both because of the information and advice she provided, but also because of the encouragement she provided. She believed in me when I doubted my ability to cope with choral directing in middle school.”
Newton Middle School
“Student teachers can’t learn everything they need to know in a methods class. It is vital that they have people willing to help them ‘learn the ropes’ at the teaching site or within the district. Experienced and seasoned teachers can be a lifesaver for these new beginning teachers. Anytime, at any level, a teacher or more experienced student is willing to give of his or her time to help a fellow teacher or student, it is a worthy endeavor that, most of the time, will be greatly appreciated by the recipient. It becomes a learning and growing experience/process for both the mentor and the mentee.”
McNeese State University
Lake Charles, La.
“Vocal/choral teachers are often very sensitive to unbidden (and sometimes asked for) feedback regarding their technique. Not all have the same solid vocal pedagogy background, and many have no vocal training whatsoever. It is important to build a relationship, make them feel that what they have to offer is important, invite them to teach in your classroom, and share concerts with you and your groups. The ‘technique’ and other questions will grow out of a peer-to-peer relationship. Being a senior peer is not a hierarchical relationship; it is an even relationship.”
The Harker School
San Jose, Calif.
“I am so thankful for those with whom I have connections and of whom I can ask questions as they arise. Of course, there are many questions when you first begin teaching; but we all continue to run into issues each year. It is the wise teacher who is willing to get advice from others who may have passed that way before.”
Bob Jones Academy