• The Problem With Mentors (3)

    by  • May 30, 2007 • Uncategorized • 4 Comments

    It suddenly occured to me that I’d not posted what I planned to about mentors. In fact I was writing my lit. review (again!) today, and decided to look at the blog, to see what I thought about mentoring (it’s not so bad when you’re cutting and pasting from the internet, if you’re cutting and pasting something you’ve written yourself). So, I looked and found that “The Problem with Mentors (3)” was missing. It just goes to show that the main problem with mentors is that they don’t have enough time. Well, here it is.

    It seems (from earlier discussion) that learning to be a teacher means learning, importantly and predominantly, in school. The central importance of the mentor’s role therefore comes into immediate and sharp focus. The risks to the developing practice of student teachers, and the concomitant risk to the learning of the pupils they teach whilst learning, and whilst practising upon qualification, of poor mentoring is thus an extremely grave one.

    Poor mentoring is however a theme in early research studies of mentor practice. Burn (2003) sets out in her review of literature a “catalogue of shortcomings” (p.11) that would seem to prevent mentors making infinitely more difficult the kinds of contributions to initial teacher education that the internship principles, or even those PGCEs professing to encourage “reflective practice”seem to expect.

    For instance, a 1994 study by Edwards and Collinson found that mentors rarely challenged the student teacher’s interpretation of events in classrooms. Neither did they make explicit their own understandings of how children learn, relate classroom practice with theories of pupil learning. [Refer to this in conclusions – I don't know how children learn myself!] Edwards and Collinson also found that student teachers sought, in their relations with mentors, to present themselves as “polite guests presenting gifts” in the form of ‘good ideas’ for classroom activities. Mentors on the other had wanted to present themselves as efficient operators, and didn’t place high demands on trainees. All together, these behaviours and attitudes brought about a “reduction in the opportunities for student teacher learning” (p.12). Similar problems were found by Elliot and Calderhead in their 1993 study and Trish Maynard in her 1996 study. In summary, Burn tells us how a culture of ‘high support and low challenge simply confirmed the novices in their existing images of teaching” (p.13)

    These problems might be related to ones of knowledge and confidence. For instance, whilst reading the descriptions of the “shortcomings” of mentors I was struck with three thoughts of recognition about my own mentor practice. Firstly I recognise my own desire, and the desire of other teachers in my department to be seen as an effective professionals. I know that this leads to feelings not only of panic and resentment when students are placed for observation with teachers in the early phase of school practice, but it also means that teachers and students are unwilling to question or discuss lessons beyond the superficial ‘thanks for having me, that was a really good lesson’ – because the teacher’s professional expertise is a given, almost closed and finished thing, that teachers are to display, and students are to observe. Interestingly this superficial ‘summative’ (Benson 1993) evaluation of lessons irritates teachers in my department, because they don’t think that student teachers have the experience or abilities to judge lessons on their own, let alone at the early stage of their school based experiences. These attitudes, in mentor, student and teacher, might therefore present significant barriers to the discussion of lesson outcomes and plannings.

    Secondly I realise that my own personal theories about how students learn are patchy, and would be very difficult for me to discuss with or present to students in a meaningful way. Beyond muttering ‘constructivist, erm brain is an organic organ, atmosphere of reflection, comfort and, erm risk taking”, I’d have to think much more carefully before feeing able to talk properly about this with anyone, let alone a person I’m mentoring. In fact, I’m not sure whether I really have a theory, or a set of theories about how children learn.

    Thirdly, the culture of “reflective practice” that pervades ITT (anecdotally, I have heard of prospective ITT students being asked at an interview for a place on a course “so, tell me, what is a reflective practitioner?”), might mean that students are confirmed in their own preconceptions because mentors and even tutors don’t understand the dangers of relativism inherent in merely teaching student teachers how to reflect, rather than suggesting criteria against which they might be encouraged to assess their own practice.

  • Burn, Katharine Learning To Teach History as a Continual Process of Hypothesis-Testing: a critical examination of key principles of the Internship Scheme (2003) Unpublished D. Phil. Thesis Oxford University

    Benson, Ann Mentoring in Action: Normal Times, in Allsop and Benson Eds. Mentoring for Science Teachers (1997) Buckinham: Open University Press.

  • About

    4 Responses to The Problem With Mentors (3)

    1. Dave Wilcock
      July 21, 2007 at 11:22 pm

      A teacher?


      It always amazes me when I think back to the kids I was in school with and realise that they’ve ‘grown up’ (a bit).

      You probably wouldn’t believe that I’m a nurse, but I am.

      And I love it.

      Drop me a line. If you want.


    2. Gill Benet
      April 4, 2008 at 12:14 pm

      I have just read yourticle ‘The Problem With Mentors (3)’ posted May 30th, 2007 and found it very interesting and useful. I would like to quote you in an ‘reflective practice’ piece that I am writing for my Post Graduate Certificate in Mentoring. Is that OK?
      Additionally, I would like to ask for your advice and any anecdotal evidence you could provide regarding mentees’ nonchalant attitude to planning and the meeting of deadlines. If a student teacher fails to write up lesson plans prior to teaching and observation (despite being reminded on several occasions) just how far should a mentor go in addressing this? As mentors, we are meant to provide support on many levels (including emotional) but also we have to bear in mind that the goal is to make sure that the IIT student has met and continues to meet the 33 Q standards and that the pupils still receive good teaching.
      I sometimes worry that if I get too strong with my mentee than I would actually be causing her emotional stress rather seeking to prevent or aleviate it.
      I would be very grateful, should you be able to find the time, if you could reply to me with any advice or anecdotal accounts that would make me feel better.

      Thank you

      Teacher and Mentor

    3. mary podesta
      July 21, 2009 at 8:36 am

      HI, As you know I don’t mentor students anymore but did so for lots of years and was school mentor for a long time in two primary schools.
      I always found that the idea that the mentee ( horrid word) was the expert was a dead end approach and I like to instead encourage the idea from the start that a teacher learns from every lesson, s/he teaches and from every child and also from every student. If a teacher stops learning, they might as well leave the profession. This was my approach from day one with each student and I hoped to encourage the thinking that as we were both learning, we could both learn from each other. I felt that this encouraged the student to see that the learning process was continuous and s/he was joining a body of professionals who enjoyed learning, believed in a infinite capacity to learn but also were willing to share, make mistakes and grow from that experience in the same way we hope our students will grow and develop.

      This always seemed to work and after discussing it with several students it seemed to encourage the idea that they could “have a go ” at things they might find challenging and be ready afterwards to discuss and reflect on how the lesson had gone, maybe why it hadn’t worked and how it could be done better next time. This shared learning frees students to be daring, take risks and find new things out about themselves without being judged as failing. It gave them the confidence to question their own practice and that of others and to develop their own style.

      I found, quite depressingly, at many mentor meetings that some mentees expected students to come into school as almost fully formed teachers and were not willing to use similar practices as they were themselves a bit nervous about being scrutinised and having their own attitudes challenged. They resorted to an “I am the expert” position and this discourages questioning and professional discussion.

    4. Crisalde Labatos Jr.
      May 26, 2010 at 2:05 am

      thanks this makes my research perfect :D

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