Beginning Teacher and Mentor Relationships

Article excerpt

Many education scholars agree that the first year of teaching is exceptionally challenging (Huling-Austin, Odell, Ishler, Kay, & Edelfelt, 1989; Veenman, 1984). First-year teaching experiences are powerful influences on teachers' practice and attitude throughout the remainder of their careers (Kuzmic, 1994). Because of the importance and complexity of beginning teachers' experiences, their socialization has received increasing attention in educational research and reform during the past two decades (Huling-Austin, 1990; Kuzmic, 1994).

Beginning Teacher Induction

For over a decade, reformers have called for induction programs with mentors to ease the transition of beginning teachers into full,time teaching (Huling-Austin, 1990). Many (Cochran-Smith, 1991; Feiman-Nemser, 1983; Koerner, 1992; Staton & Hunt, 1992) believe that working with an experienced teacher will help shape a beginning teacher's beliefs and practices. Most induction programs attempt to increase teacher retention and improve the instruction of new teachers (Odell, 1986). Little (1990), reviewing the mentor phenomenon, notes that rhetoric and action (regarding the development and implementation of mentor programs) have nonetheless outpaced both conceptual development and empirical warrant (p. 297). Little believes that despite the lack of empirical inquiry prior to 1990, policy interest and reform efforts related to mentoring have grown consistently during the period between 1983 and 1990.

Social Norms for Teachers

In Schoolteacher: A Sociological Study, his classic work on teacher socialization, Lortie (1975) identified several social norms for teachers. Lortie and others (Little, 1990; McPherson, 1972; Sarason, 1982) have described the norm of teachers working in isolation and the struggles of first-year teachers. When teachers do interact, they rarely discuss or request assistance with significant problems in their classrooms (Feiman-Nemser & Floden, 1986). Socialization literature has also identified a norm discouraging teachers from telling a peer to do something different in the classroom (Newberry, 1977). Schools exist in which teachers support one another and may socialize out of school, but even in these cases, teachers avoid talking about instructional practices (Biklen, 1983; Feiman-Nemser & Floden, 1986; McPherson, 1972; Silver, 1973). Hart (1989) describes how schools' conservative traditions of individualistic and egalitarian social organization shape the mentor role. The norm of isolation means that many skilled veteran teachers have had little experience communicating with other teachers about their practice. The conservative norms for teacher interaction make it difficult for mentors to critique the work of beginning teachers and beginning teachers to request help with problems in their classrooms (Little, 1990).

The assignment of mentor-protege relationships is a primary component of many teacher induction programs (Odell, 1990) intended to influence novice teachers' beliefs and practices. In reality, the conservative social organization in schools and the norms tied to this organization (Little, 1990) limit the role of mentors. Official records indicate that the early stages of mentoring emphasize providing information about the system rather than consultation on curriculum and instruction (Odell, 1986). Although activities aimed at emotional support are not widely found in official records, they are extremely important to beginning teachers (Huling-Austin, 1990) who value interactions with mentors that foster these feelings. The emphasis on comfort and harmonious relations along with the norms of noninterference found in schools combine to constrain mentors from posing tough questions about practice (Little, 1990).

Responses to Constraints on Mentor Effectiveness

Research revealing factors restricting the success of mentor-protege relationships has led to improvements in some induction programs. …