“Every new teacher needs a mentor,” said McCray, a professor in Fordham’s Graduate School of Education and co-editor of a new book that he hopes will prompt educators to give mentoring new attention.
Published Sept. 6, Mentoring with Meaning: How Educators Can Be More Professional and Effective (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015) is a collection of articles about mentoring teachers at all levels, from kindergarten through college and graduate school. McCray and his co-editor, Bruce Cooper, PhD, a now-retired GSE professor, also have a companion volume—Mentoring for School Quality, focused more on kindergarten through 12th grade—coming out Oct. 1.
“We believe that these two books are the most comprehensive pieces on mentoring to date as it relates to education and educational leadership,” he said.
By reducing attrition rates, which are “extremely high” in urban schools, mentoring can bring more stability to schools and cut down on the cost of recruitment and hiring, said McCray, a former schoolteacher. But educators are busy, and mentoring programs—where they exist, that is—can become little more than an exercise in “checking off the box” to meet a central office requirement, he said.
“Sometimes you can have a mentoring process and it’s there, it’s just dangling, it’s not necessarily embedded. No one’s necessarily taking ownership of the process,” McCray said. Mentoring is effective, he said, “when the process is truly embedded in the culture and the organization, and people have ownership, and are excited to say, ‘Okay, this is going to be my mentee, and not only are we going to form a relationship in the organization, but I also want to know more about you as a person, and it’s coming from an authentic ethic of care and love,” he said.
Setting up such a mentoring system, one that ensures personal compatibility between mentor and mentee, is well worth the time and effort—and creativity— that are needed, he said.
“It takes time,” McCray said. “What we’re trying to do in this book is to get educational leaders to see that if you invest time on the front end, then it may be worth a lot more on the back end,” in terms of improved morale, teacher retention, and student achievement, McCray said.
The book’s contributors include scholars and seasoned practitioners. They cover many aspects of the topic: mentoring women and helping them reach leadership positions; mentoring over long distances, if necessary; and seeking different mentors for different things parts of the job, like handling office politics and building one’s career. Also included are inventive approaches to mentoring, along with plenty of success stories.
“There need to be more success stories,” McCray said. “Many people have spent a lot of money and invested a lot of time to become educators, and so when they come in the door we want to give them every opportunity that they deserve to succeed.”