New Teachers Seek Support Online

If you're a new teacher in your first classroom, a little advice from a veteran educator goes a long way.

For those who can't get face-to-face mentoring time, online mentoring can be a big help, says Alyson Mike, director of online professional development at the New Teacher Center, a nonprofit based in Santa Cruz, CA.

The New Teacher Center's largest endeavor is called e-Mentoring for Student Success (eMSS), a year-long, nationwide mentoring program that pairs novice science, math, and special education teachers with those with experience. Begun in 2002 through a grant from the National Science Foundation, the program offers new teachers constant interactivity with a content-specific mentor as well as research-based curricula. Often, eMSS clients are school districts or departments of education who want to offer more professional development opportunities to their beginning teachers in an effort to bolster AYP scores or new-teacher retention rates.

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So, why online mentoring as opposed to face-to-face? Wouldn't it be better if all beginning teachers could have in-person mentor relationships?

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Not necessarily, says Mike. "Because most of the work that we do is asynchronous, you can do it when it's convenient for you. There's flexibility in having access to a mentor that meets your schedule. That's one of the things that comes out loud and clear with the feedback we get" from participants, she says.

Also, many mentees report that the distance an online relationship provides is actually "a very positive thing," says Mike. "It can be much more comfortable to tell someone at a distance and not someone you're going to see in the hall the next day. It helps teachers open up and share more of the challenges they have."

Online mentoring can be a way to pair teachers in the same content area, too – something that's not always feasible, especially in rural school districts. At eMSS, "if you're teaching chemistry, there's an area just devoted to chemistry."

The New Teacher Center has begun providing webcams so that mentors can watch their mentees' classrooms in real-time and provide specific feedback. Participants also communicate more and more through Google chat, videoconferencing, instant messaging, and text messaging, so "it's more in-the-moment, if you will," says Mike.