This post is part of our February 2016 News & Views Newsletter. Read more
Mike Sheppard was selected as the 2015 NAAE Teacher Mentor for Region 1. He's been teaching agriculture for 16 years, and was nominated for the Teacher Mentor by his co-workers, both of who came to teach with Mike straight out of college. Get Mike's take on what it means to be a mentor, what he misses about being a new ag teacher, and what kind of mentoring he thinks works best.
What does it mean to be a mentor?
To me it means keeping our profession growing. Without good mentoring, teachers struggle, or don't make it at all. In order to keep ag teachers going, they need good mentors. A good mentor checks in pretty regularly, offers help, sees how you're doing, offers moral support.
Who mentored you?
I didn't have a mentor - not really. When I first started, I was in a single department school, and I had several people that I could call on in my district, so when I really got stuck, I would call them.
Did that affect how you view mentoring now?
The thing that affected that the most is my own daughter. She's an ag teacher too, in her 6th year. I've learned more from her than anyone else how important it is for somebody to have a mentor. She had others she could go to, but when you can go to your old ag teacher, or your dad, it's a little easier. She's been teaching for a while now, so she's offering help to others, even.
I think the thing that holds a lot of people back is that for some reason we are afraid we're going to look bad if we ask for help, but if you can trust somebody, then it's easier.
What is your favorite thing about being a more experienced ag teacher?
Maybe the best thing is my past students. I see them quite a bit. I've got five students who are either student teaching now or in ag ed. That's the best thing is to just see how successful they're becoming.
What do you miss about being a new ag teacher?
Nothing. Not a thing. That first year was hard. Well, I can't say now that I didn't do something because I didn't know about it. I miss that a little (chuckles).
What's one easy way for an experienced teacher to affect a young teacher?
Pick out somebody you know, or a new teacher in your district, and several times during the year, check in on them. Don't pester them, but call them and see how they're doing. A simple thing like that can make a big difference.
What's the toughest thing a new ag teacher faces?
Classroom management. There's a lot to that. Having the kids engaged the entire class, dealing with behavior, dealing with kids, keeping up with their grades. With all three of the young teachers I've worked with recently, that's been it. Getting used to that aspect.
What's the toughest thing a veteran ag teacher faces?
All the changes that come across. We've had changes in way teachers are evaluated, requirements you have to fulfill. It seems like things keep getting added.
What's better, formal or informal mentoring?
Definitely informal. We tried the formal in Washington, assigning teachers to be mentors. We found that doesn't work. It's a little better when you have the new teachers pick, but it happens best when it happens naturally. You see new teachers there. That works best to find somebody close.
It's really rewarding to mentor someone. It's just a good feeling to see somebody you helped out actually take your advice and do something good with it. It's one of the most rewarding things. It's just as rewarding as seeing one of your students being successful.
The NAAE Teacher Mentor award is sponsored by CEV Multimedia. For more information about NAAE awards, visit http://www.naae.org/resources/awards/.