Mentoring an Untrained Teacher

In a recent conversation about mentoring with my long-time colleague Nettie Fabrie from Sound Circle Center who is the Pedagogical Dean of the Seattle Waldorf School, I posed a question about mentoring a new and untrained teacher and she shared with me an important thought about mentoring new teachers in general.

She asked me, “Has this teacher gone through a teacher training or preparation course?  If not then one needs to take a different route in mentoring this teacher. One needs to develop a support program for the teacher that looks more like training than mentoring.”

“You see”, she said, “you can certainly help the teacher in their teaching, but without the foundations that are provided in a good Waldorf teacher preparation program most of what an individual will absorb will be just techniques. That will serve them for a little while. But when the children meet difficulties the inexperienced teacher will have a hard time discerning what the proper response would be and that is when we often see crises and conflicts developing between the teacher, students and parents alike.”

There are four important things that one develops in a teacher preparation course that are essential to their success in a school:

  1. A refined inner practice that is active and aligned with the stream of anthroposophy.
  2. A greater capacity for social interaction, group work and community and organizational development.
  3. A deeper understanding of the Waldorf curriculum, human development, teaching and student support.
  4. An active and diverse artistic life.

These are not things that a teacher can or will easily develop through online courses, weekend seminars or one-week summer intensives. These training opportunities often work on one or another of the areas, but not all. To develop these capacities above, it ia most helpful to have a guide and a group to work with over time.

When a school hires an untrained teacher, it is faced with the question of how to provide the needed support to the teacher in their inner, social, artistic and pedagogical work. Some of this can be supported through the ongoing work and study of the faculty. Some of this can be supported by requiring the teacher to enter into a training program. This requirement, however, often creates challenges as the carrying of a class and training at the same time is more than many people can manage. Without proper training the teacher often falls behind to the point of not serving the school well and the school compromises the quality of their educational offering. There are things a school can do to avoid this pitfall.

  • Make a commitment to hiring only trained teachers
  • If an untrained teacher is hired, commit to supporting him or her by providing funding and/or giving them a lighter teaching load so they may enter a training program immediately
  • Set up a collegial support system so that they can have the coaching needed from an experienced teacher as they complete their training. The support framework is best when it involves an overall plan for professional development and collegial support in the areas most needed – parent work, classroom management, lesson planning, artistic development.
  • If you don’t have a mentoring program established, then it may be wise to find a professional mentor outside the school who can help.

For more ideas about how to transition a new teacher into the school, see the Transition Handbook developed by the Teacher Education Network of AWSNA and other resources listed on this site.

Michael Soule 12/2014

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