Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

The Role of Effective Mentors in Learning to Teach

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

The Role of Effective Mentors in Learning to Teach

Article excerpt

I have felt like a student ... because [Mary] is teaching me so many things and so sometimes we're in that role. But it's not me sitting on the other side of the desk. It's kind of like sitting beside her being a student. And, I have felt like we're colleagues when we share, particularly when we work with literature. ... We were able to feed off each other. It wasn't me so much learning, I mean I was learning, we were learning from each other.

A student teacher in the Effective Mentoring in English Education (EMEE) project, Jessica (pseudonyms used), described the various relations she negotiated with her cooperating teacher, Mary. In this interview, she portrayed herself as both student and colleague. Later in the same conversation, Jessica described Mary as a friend who invited Jessica to dinner when her husband was out of town. Jessica's portrayal provides a glimpse into the importance she attached to her relationship with her mentor teacher, one in which she could find guidance, mutual learning, and friendship. This supportive, friendly relationship has not frequently appeared in the professional literature on preservice education. Most recent studies have focused on the student teachers' perceptions of their preservice experiences or the power cooperating teachers exert over their less experienced colleagues (Britzman, 1991; Vinz, 1996). In these studies, mentor teachers have often been viewed as impeding student teachers' professional growth rather than as promoting it.

Considering the importance student teachers place on their practice teaching and the crucial role that mentor teachers play in this experience, the few portraits of effective mentors highlight the need for detailed examinations of effective mentoring in preservice teacher education. To this end, the EMEE project explored how effective mentors, such as Mary, supported student teachers during their practice teaching. We organized this project as a clinical partnership (Wagner, 1997). In these partnerships, teachers participate in reflexive, systematic inquiry sustained by the opportunity to engage in extended conversations about teaching practice (Wagner, 1997, p. 13). In the EMEE project, the cooperating teachers and student teachers served as both coresearchers and informants, exploring with us the significance of their evolving relationships for the education of new teachers. This research process was exploratory, emergent, and dialogic in character (Allen, Cary, & Delgado, 1995; Clark et al., 1996; Dyson, 1995). It emphasized the voices of teachers and student teachers in understanding experiences while it engaged them in expanding the boundaries of their own knowledge about teaching and professional growth.

This approach and the topic of inquiry are significantly connected to contemporary thought on teacher development (Clifford & Green, 1996; Elliott, 1995; Hawkey, 1997; McNamara, 1995). Previous studies have suggested that mentors act as instructional models, sources of advice, and sounding boards for concerns about teaching; they challenge student teachers to think more broadly about their practice; and they guide the student teachers' professional development (Daloz, 1986; Elliott & Calderhead, 1993). Moreover, research suggests that mentoring relationships evolve over time in predictable ways, although student teachers' growth may be spurred by unanticipated but significant events (Fairbanks & Meritt, 1998; Maynard & Furlong, 1993; McIntyre & Hagger, 1993; Vinz, 1996). Current research suggests that mentoring relationships shape new teachers' professional practice in important ways (Hawkey, 1997). McNamara (1995) argues that the quality of mentoring influences student teachers' capacity to reflect on teaching strategies and to incorporate them into their own practice. In sum, these studies suggest that mentoring consists of complex social interactions that mentor teachers and student teachers construct and negotiate for a variety of professional purposes and in response to the contextual factors they encounter. …

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