Mentoring as a Means for Supporting Student and Beginning Teachers' Practice-Based Learning

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Becoming a professional teacher calls for extensive theoretical and practical studies going far beyond the provision of initial teacher education courses. Practice worldwide has shown that novice teachers experience enormous difficulties when starting their working careers at schools and many of them fail to survive the adaptation period. Some estimates suggest that almost 30 percent of beginning teachers do not teach beyond two years and 40-50 percent leave the profession within their first five years of teaching (Darling-Hammond and Sclan 1996:83, Hughes 2003:1619). To the end of reducing the attrition and burnout rate during this period, educational authorities and teacher educators have taken measures to alleviate beginning teachers' adaptation to the profession by introducing extensive on-the-job field practice and induction programmes. The main purpose of these programmes is to provide assistance to student and beginning teachers for integrating their formal pedagogical knowledge with the practice of a specific school and for their adaptation to the specific atmosphere or micro-politics (a term introduced by Kelchtermans & Ballet 2002) of this school. However, focusing only on the issues of supporting the practical studies of beginning teachers in their final phases of practice-based studies would turn out to be tardy, as many basic practical teaching skills should be mastered already in the early stages of teacher education (e.g. Berliner 2001, Moore 2003). Therefore, the issue of supporting beginning teachers' field-based studies should be seen as a continuum starting with the tasks of supervising student teachers' school practice and ending with mentoring during the induction period.

The following article, based on a theoretical review of teacher education research, analyses general concepts of supervision and mentoring of student and beginning teachers' school practice, specifies the function of supervision and mentoring in different phases of teacher education, compares some current mentoring programmes in practice, and discusses the issues of mentor selection and preparation.

2. General concepts of supervision and mentoring

2.1. Supervisors and mentors

The persons responsible for the guidance and support of the student and beginning teachers are referred to using differing terminology depending on the nature of support provided and the support providers' role in organising and supervising teaching practice. The name also depends on teacher education traditions in a specific country. For example, the person supervising prospective teachers during their final qualification phase may be called 'tutor', 'counsellor', 'coordinator', 'mentor', 'orientator' etc. (Eurydice 2002:79). Usually at least two support persons are involved in the organisation of student teachers' school practice: the supervising or mentoring teacher and the representative of the education institution as contact or liaison person between the university faculty and partner school. In order to emphasise differences in the nature of the support and guidance that student or beginning teachers need, the cooperating teacher supervising the pre-service teaching practice is called "supervisor" and teachers who work with teacher education interns are called "mentors" in this study. Thus, the name "mentor" points to a collegial and equal relationship with the protege in which the mentor serves as a guide to practical knowledge and as a source of moral support (Awaya, et al. 2003) and better characterises the expected role of cooperating teachers working with interns.

2.2. Needs for mentoring as determined by different approaches to teacher education

From a broad analytical point of view student teaching experience can be conceptualised, as articulated by Dewey (1904), in two contrasting ways. One conception is that of apprenticeship, where university supervisors and cooperating teachers assist students in gaining techniques and self-confidence that will help them survive more comfortably within an existing school situation, and without questioning the status quo. …