What Questions Should New Teachers Ask Their Mentors?

So you’ve got a mentor teacher who is ready to answer your questions. Great! Unfortunately, you’re not quite sure what those questions are yet.

Even if people have told you over and over that there are no stupid questions, it can be scary to ask a more experienced colleague something that reveals what you don’t know. On the other hand, you don’t want to waste precious mentoring time nodding along politely as someone repeats everything you just learned in training. As a general rule, the best mentor questions pertain to things that are specific to your school and/or can keep you from reinventing the wheel.

Below, you’ll find a list of no-shame-in-asking questions to help start the conversation.

Before we start, here are three good ways to use this list.

1. If you’re working with one specific mentor teacher: Make an appointment to sit together for a one-hour brain-picking session. Copy and paste all of these questions into a Word document and make any modifications that apply to your situation. Then, take notes on the answers and ask follow-up questions as needed.

2. If you’re looking to build a board of teaching advisors: Share the questions in this post with a few different people and ask if they can spend five minutes answering the question of their choice. Or, if you have a sense of who you’d like certain answers from, send different questions to different people. As you receive answers, you’ll also start to get a sense of who to approach for advice in the future and what types of questions to ask each advisor.

3. If you’re meeting all the experienced teachers in your school in the same week: Keep this list in mind. Many experienced teachers will say something along the lines of, “Feel free to ask me if you need anything!” Usually, beginning teachers nod enthusiastically and say they sure will, but they think they’ve got everything covered for now! Then they slink off to their own classroom, where they can have a panic attack in private. A more productive way to handle these offers for help, which are almost always genuine, is to say, “Actually, I do have one question…” and then ask one of these.

Questions to Ask Your Mentor Teacher(s) Before the First Day of School.

  • Will our department or grade level have a collaborative planning meeting? If so, should I start planning now on my own, or wait until the meeting?
  • Is there a specific discipline system that everyone on our grade level (or in our school) uses?
  • Do you have procedures you’d recommend for any of these classroom routines?
  • Do you have a version of any of these first-day forms? Could I get them as a computer file that I can customize?
  • How many grades do we need to have in our grade book by report card day, which probably falls in October? Do you have any advice for staying caught up on grading?
  • What school supplies should I expect students to bring on the first day?
  • What school supplies can I ask families to send in while still being respectful of everyone’s budget?
  • What subject matter should I teach on the first day?
  • Can I see your first-day lesson plans? Could I get them as a computer file that I can customize?
  • What is the school’s policy on cell phones or other devices in class? How do you enforce this policy in your classroom?
  • What is the school’s dress code? How strictly is it enforced at a school level? How do you enforce the dress code within your classroom? What issues do you run into and how do you deal with them?
  • Do you let parents come into your classroom on the first day of school? If so, what are your guidelines for managing this? If not, how do you politely keep them from walking in?
  • ______________________?

Even if you know some of the answers or have ideas of your own, having a few questions like these in your pocket to ask of anyone who offers will signal to your new colleagues that you’re engaged and open to feedback and collaboration. Over time, you’ll find that there may be some colleagues whom you’d really prefer to avoid collaborating or even engaging with—but that’s a subject for another post.

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