Teaching the Teacher

When David Bernstein joins the administrative team at The Friends School, he takes on the task of revamping the new teacher support program. As he begins exploring ways to support novice teachers more effectively, he visits his former mentor, Liv Marin, to see how she works with new teachers.

David heads back to his old school to observe a new teacher.

Scene Photo

David enjoys discussing teaching practice with his former mentor.

David grinned as he walked down the hall of Oak Hill School. It still smelled the same, although he noted the renovated classrooms and new performing arts center. As he entered the administrative offices—was that the same khaki paint?—he had the feeling he’d stepped back in time fifteen years. He grinned at the receptionist and asked for Liv Marin.

David had taught at Oak Hill School for two years right after college before moving to Boston to attend graduate school. He’d lived—and taught—in New England since then, but a desire to be closer to his aging parents had brought him home once more. He’d found a position at The Friends School, one of the largest independent schools in the area, and joined the administrative team.

His new colleagues were poised to think through many established traditions and innovate at both the curricular and organizational level. As part of that effort, David was revamping science education and—this was a new topic for him—creating the school’s formal teacher support program. He’d spent much of the academic year focusing on curriculum, which after his years in the classroom (both as student and teacher) was exciting and familiar territory. As the end of the year approached, he realized he’d better get to work on new teacher “stuff” if he was going to be ready for next year’s hirees.

He’d been meaning to pay a visit to Liv since he’d returned to town—and this was the perfect excuse to take a morning off to do so. David had had no classroom experience and just two education courses under his belt when he started teaching. Liv had talked him through lesson planning and unit design. He wouldn’t have made it—and definitely would have left education—without her support. He owed her more than a visit; she’d inspired him to believe in his abilities (when there was slim evidence of them, he had to admit, in the classroom) and to love the work of educating students.

David wanted The Friends School to support incoming teachers the way Liv had. Currently, their “program” was informal and unstructured. Most teachers had a mentor—but what that mentor did was based on availability and interest. Some loved working with new teachers, but others paid lip service to the idea and didn’t put much time into it. David knew that had to change. Now that he would be in charge, he realized he didn’t really know how to set up a classroom visit, what kinds of feedback to include, and how to make observations a positive and useful experience. He had called Liz, whose professional responsibilities increasingly centered on serving as a master teacher of teachers, for guidance.

A door opened behind him and he heard Liv’s happy, “David, good to see you!” He gave her a quick hug and they chit-chatted about changes in the school as they walked back to her office. After just a few minutes, Liv said, “I hate to hurry you, but I’m scheduled to observe in Melody’s classroom in just fifteen minutes and I want you to see that so the post-observation conference makes sense.”

“In other words,” David laughed, “Get to work?”

Melody smiled, “Well, I just would hate for you to leave with unanswered questions.”

“Alright,” David said. “I will formally interview you.” He quickly pulled out his notebook. “Question one. What would you tell a new teacher about finding a mentor?”

“I know you were my lifeline,” David said. “And now I’m in a position where I’m either going to be mentoring teachers or helping others mentor them. Any advice?”

David considered his curriculum work and how in so many ways he did in fact think he knew the best way to teach. Then he thought about where he began as a teacher. He needed to hold on to that feeling of excitement, anticipation, and nervousness. “So what do you do,” he asked, “When you know there are better ways? How do you balance being supportive and more critical?”

“It just seems like it would be so easy to misinterpret what you see,” David said.

Liv smiled. “Yep, that’s what makes it so rich.”

“Well,” David said. “What you’re saying mirrors what we know about teaching and learning in general, right? The same principles apply.”

“That’s right,” Liv said, glancing at the clock. “And now we’ve got to scoot. Melody’s class begins in just a minute. Here’s her lesson plan so you can follow along.”

Melody’s Lesson Plan

David observes as Melody and Liv engage in a post-observation conference.

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Liv and Melody reflect on the science lesson.

Right after the science class, David, Liv and Melody sat down to review the lesson. Once again, David sat off to the side and tried to minimize his presence. He wanted the conference to be as natural as possible.

As the discussion wound down, David thought about how important Liv had been to his continuing on in education. It would have been so easy for her to throw up her hands in the face of his inexperience—and so easy for him to quit. But she’d inspired him to dig deep and give teaching his all. It was a choice he’d never regretted. Now she had taught him something else: how to create a positive mentoring relationship that would help new teachers grow and encourage them to learn their craft.