The purpose of this study was to determine the differences in mentoring across three different contexts: student teaching, early field experiences, and entry year teachers. Eighteen participants were selected and interviewed based on their experience with mentoring in each of these contexts. The participants' confidence in their mentoring, their relationship with mentees, and their mentoring strategies were influenced by three aspects of the context: 1) the mentor/mentee/match, 2) the amount of time for mentoring interactions, and 3) the expectations for the mentee. Recommendations for improving mentoring relationships and strategies across all three contexts are discussed.
Beginning Teacher Induction
Preservice Teacher Education
Teachers' Perceptions of their Mentoring Role in Three Different Contexts:
Student Teaching, Early Field Experiences, and Entry Year Teaching
The role of practice in learning to teach has received increasing attention among teacher educators during the past two decades, resulting in several global trends. These include an increased emphasis on school-based experiences (Maandag, Deinum, Hoffman, & Buitnk, 2007; Villegas-Reimers, 2003), an expansion of student teaching requirements (Ronfeldt & Reininger, 2012), and the recent call in the United States for "clinically-based teacher education" (NCATE, 2010). These trends have also been accompanied by a theoretical shift concerning how teachers learn to teach. Historically, preservice teachers  were exposed to a theoretical knowledge base and then expected to find ways to apply their learning in a classroom. More recently, a number of scholars (e.g., Ball & Cohen, 1999; Ball & Forzani, 2009; Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1999; Korthagen & Kessels, 1999) have reversed this perspective by asserting that experiential learning establishes the basis for understanding theory. Korthagen (2010) described this process as occurring in three tiers: the acquisition of teaching experiences, 2) the creation of schemas through reflection upon teaching experiences, and 3) the development of theoretical knowledge by aligning schemas with more formally learned concepts, typically acquired through coursework, professional development activities, or professional reading.
The increased emphasis on learning in clinical settings has led to widespread appreciation of the role of mentoring in teacher education. A growing body of literature has suggested considerable variation in how teachers perceive and approach their role as mentors (for example, Hawkey, 1997; McNally & Martin, 1997; Saunders, Pettinger, & Tomlinson, 1995). In a meta analysis of the interactions between mentors and prospective teachers, Hennissen, Crasborn, Brouwer, Korthagen, and Bergen (2008) proposed classifying mentoring interactions on two continuums representing opposing poles: active/reactive and directive/nondirective. On one continuum, active mentor teachers are described as more assertive than reactive mentors about introducing topics, and on the second continuum, directive mentors provide more guidance and allow their mentees fewer choices than nondirective mentors. Hennissen et al. further accounted for the variation among mentors by suggesting these interactions can occur in a variety of different permutations between the two continuums. For example, active mentors can also be non-directive, that is, active mentors may introduce topics for discussion but allow the mentee considerable freedom in choosing a strategy. With this framework, Hennissen et al. have provided a way for us to better understand what appears to be a highly individualized practice.
To date, studies that examine differences among mentor teachers tend to do so within a prescribed, limited context, such as student teaching or entry year teaching (for example, Hobson, Ashby, Malerderez, & Tomlinson, 2008; Zanting, Verloop, & Vermunt, 2001). The findings often suggest that the mentors' approach depends on their preference for a particular style of mentoring (Hawkey, 1997), their experience with mentoring (Hennissen et al., 2008), or their relationship with the mentee (Kram, 1983; Martin, 1994). Few studies have addressed have examined the influence of the context on mentoring interactions. Those that do have considered differences among teachers in their mentoring style (for example, Wang's (2001) report of cultural differences in practice across US, UK, and Chinese mentor teachers). We are not aware of any studies that have investigated variations in the mentoring of individual teachers due to changes in the context. Therefore, there is little available information on how the context of mentoring can influence the mentoring practices of teachers.
Our purpose in conducting this study was to examine how the context for mentoring can influence the mentoring teachers across three dissimilar contexts: student teaching, early field experiences, and entry year teachers. Specifically, we wanted to know if teachers changed or adapted their mentoring strategies to fit the context or the skill level of the mentee. To serve this purpose, we interviewed 18 mentor teachers, each of whom was experienced in mentoring across all three of these contexts. The research question addressed by the study was: How does the context of mentoring affect the mentoring practices of teachers?
2. Mentoring Relationship
The foundation for effective mentoring is a healthy working relationship between the mentor and mentee (Moffett & Zhou, 2009; Parker-Katz & Bay, 2008). The mentoring relationship often evolves commensurate with the changing needs of the mentee and has been described as occurring in three stages (Kram, 1983; Martin, 1994). In the formal stage, mentors and mentees stay within their formally designated roles. In the cordial stage, the relationship between mentor and mentee is characterized by growing trust on both the personal and professional level. When the final stage of friendship is reached, mentees have growing confidence in their abilities as teachers, less need for mentor teachers, and the relationships become increasingly friendly (Martin, 1994).
The potential for difficulties between a mentor and mentee is considerable. Often the mentor teacher and preservice teacher are meeting for the first time and must build their relationship from scratch (Fletcher, 1998; Wildman, Magliero, Niles, & Niles, 1992). The subsequent development of the relationship is contingent on a complex interaction of mentor and mentee's personality, their interpersonal or psychosocial development, and their educational and/or career background (Turner, 1993). Successful interactions and communications between mentor and mentee depend on their interpersonal skills and the level of trust they are able to achieve (Brooks, 1996; Pitton, 2006; Stanulis & Russell, 2000).
The type of relationship forged between the mentor and mentee can affect the strategies available to the mentor. For example, in a collegial relationship, power and authority clearly separate the mentor from the mentee, who is viewed as serving in an "apprenticeship" role (Hawkey, 1998; Le Cornu & Ewing, 2008). Collegial mentors tend to use a more formal, informative, and direct style that focuses on "showing" and "telling" the student teacher how to teach (Hawkey, 1998; Moffett & Zhou, 2009). When the relationship becomes more personal, the cooperating teacher may act more as a facilitator and invite an open dialogue for the student teacher to candidly ask questions about areas of concern or potential growth. However, a personal relationship may also make it more difficult to give feedback when the student teacher is not performing satisfactorily, (Hawkey, 1998; Killian & Wilkins, 2009).
3. The Context for Mentoring
The purpose of this investigation is to compare mentoring relationships and strategies as they occur in three different contexts of teacher education: student teaching, early field experience, and the entry year of teaching. In the following sections, these three contexts are described as they occur both internationally and in the United States, the origin of the study.
3.1 Student Teaching
Student teaching is considered a common requirement across the globe for most teacher preparation institutions. However, the requirements vary widely across countries. (Ronfeldt & Reininger, 2012; Wang, Coleman, Coley, & Phelps, 2003). For example, the Asian countries of Japan, Korea, and Hong Kong require the shortest length of experience, ranging from a minimum of three weeks in Japan to eight weeks in Korea. In contrast, England requires a minimum of 24 weeks and the Netherlands at least 48 weeks.
In the United States, student teaching is usually a semester long, varying from 12-15 weeks. It originated with the advent of normal schools in the 19th century (Fraser, 2007) and was limited primarily to laboratory schools or university campuses prior to World War II. Although the knowledge of mentoring practices associated with teacher preparation was slow to develop, the influence of the cooperating teacher on the student teacher is widely recognized (Cook, 2007; Karmos & Jacko, 1977; Koerner, 1992; Manning, 1977; Smagorinsky, Sanford, & Konopak, 2006).
Numerous challenges to successful mentoring can emerge when the personality and teaching approach of the cooperating teacher and the student teacher are not well aligned (Bradbury & Koballa, Jr., 2008). Relational tensions can be initiated when student teaching placements are arbitrarily determined by the availability of teachers and their proximity to the university. They may be further exacerbated if the student teacher does not have an opportunity to meet with the mentor teacher prior to the experience. Thus, neither student teacher nor mentor may have a chance to adjust their initial expectations (Siebert, Clark, Kilbridge, & Peterson, 2006). Negative experiences have been attributed to difficult personal relationships with the cooperating teacher, inadequate feedback, and feeling inhibited in the choice of teaching methods (Rhoads, Radu, & Weber, 2011).
3.2 Early Field Experiences
Internationally, there is broad agreement on the importance of incorporating experiential learning into teacher education programs (Wang et al., 2003). However, approaches to achieving this aim may differ. For example, Germany and the Netherlands have developed strong commitments to school partnerships. Similarly, teachers in England must spend from 18-32 weeks in schools, and universities are legally bound to collaborate with school personnel, who share in the design of the teacher preparation program. In contrast, school-based learning tends to occur near the end of the program in France. Instead, the importance of practice is acknowledged by employing teacher educators who have extensive teaching experience in schools and who can provide teacher candidates with more practical approaches to teaching (Maandag et al., 2007). In Sweden, school officials, teacher educators, and local authorities have begun making some recent efforts to increase the amount of school-based learning that occurs earlier in the teacher education program.
In the United States, early field experiences have continued to grow in popularity since their inception in the 1970's and have became increasingly common with the spread of professional development schools (Darling-Hammond & Cobb, 1995; Ronfeldt & Reininger, 2012; Seiforth & Samuel, 1979). Extensive early field experiences permit a gradual socialization into professional norms and standards, reduce the number of teachers who leave the field in the first year, and increase the retention rate three fold in comparison to teachers from traditional preparation programs (Fleener, 1999; Schwille & Dembele, 2007). In addition, Reinhartz and Stetson (1999) found that teachers who received extensive field preparation work longer hours, are more willing to take risks, use technology better, and seem to have better problem solving skills.
Teacher candidates have also described a number of difficulties associated with early field experiences. For example, early field experiences can be unguided, fragmented, and lack coherence, thus creating challenges with managing students, pacing the class, and keeping up with the additional workload imposed by the field experience (Smith, 1992). Teacher candidates sometimes feel "used" by the teacher, especially when they think the teacher is an ineffective role model or could not find time to talk with them (Lashley & Applegate, 1985). Similarly, mentoring teachers have expressed frustration with mentees' lack of preparation, professionalism, commitment, enthusiasm, and a lack of involvement by the university (Applegate & Lashley, 1982).
3.3 Induction Year Programs
The purpose of induction programs is to help teachers make the transition from preservice to inservice teaching. Since the 1980's, the international presence of induction programs has increased considerably (Fletcher & Barrett, 2004; Hargreaves & Fullan, 2000; Hobson et al., 2008; Zimpher & Rieger, 1988), although it is sometimes difficult to ascertain whether such programs are offered due to the different ways that countries organize and label teacher education, induction, and professional development (Maandag et al., 2007). For example, the Netherlands reported that they do not provide a beginning teacher induction program in a 2003 survey of eight countries; however, they do require 48 weeks of practice teaching, far more than most other countries (Wang et al., 2003). Of the six countries that offered programs, four require them, one offers them on a voluntary basis, and in the US there is wide variation in the requirements associated with individual programs.
In the United States, support for new teachers was primarily informal in nature in the 1960's and 70's: it wasn't until the 1980's that some schools began to provide more structured social-emotional and logistical support for new teachers. Teacher induction programs expanded rapidly in the 1980's and 90's with many districts providing mentoring support to beginning teachers and by 2001, 38 states had initiated policies and programs associated with induction (Hirsch, Koppich, & Knapp, 2001; Wang, Tregidgo, & Mifsud, 2002).
The rapid spread of induction programs can be attributed to the many benefits associated with them. One of the most widely cited is the impoved retention rate of teachers, which is influenced by the level and quality of mentoring given to new teachers (Joiner & Edwards, 2008). Other benefits include substantial professional development, improved reflection and problem-solving abilities, adoption of instructional practices and practices of the mentor, and reduced feelings of isolation and increased positive attitudes (Bush & Coleman, 1995, Darling-Hammond, 2003; Fantilli & McDougall, 2009; McIntyre & Hagger, 1996).
Yet entry year teachers can be challenged when trying to produce student- learning outcomes comparable to the experienced and seasoned teachers (Fletcher & Barrett, 2004; Hargreaves & Fullan, 2000). They often work in new school districts where they are unfamiliar with the curriculum, culture, administration, policies, and procedures. In addition, more experienced teachers can move to more desirable higher achieving schools, so beginning teachers are often placed in lower achieving schools and classrooms with diverse populations of students, including students with disabilities, students from families with low socioeconomic status, and students with limited English proficiency (Fletcher & Barrett, 2004; Hargreaves & Fullan, 2000). As a result, the challenge of reaching student achievement targets can be much greater for the beginning teacher than for the experienced teacher.
The research question addressed by the study was: How does the context of mentoring affect the mentoring practices of teachers? To investigate this question, eighteen teachers were asked to compare their mentoring practices across early field experiences, student teaching, and entry year teaching. This multi-case study employed a grounded theory approach, which is well suited for research designed to "generate theory that is grounded in or emerges from the field" (Lichtman, 2010, p. 72). Hallmark components of a grounded theory approach include the use of theoretical sampling in participant selection and a constant-comparative method in data analysis. In this study, a sampling of teachers having experience with mentoring during early field experiences, student teaching, and entry level teaching were selected for participation. The data was analyzed using an open, axial, and selective coding process.
Participants were recruited by contacting building principals, teaching liaisons (similar to a lead teacher), field placement coordinators, district mentor coordinators, teacher educators, and Educational Service Centers. Participants in this study had at least three years teaching experience and were representative of teachers from kindergarten through secondary school. All participants had experience with mentoring student teachers, teacher candidates in early field experiences, and entry year teachers. A total of 18 teachers with mentoring experience from both urban and rural settings took part in the study. Twelve participants taught in a rural setting and six taught in an urban setting. Seven participants taught at the elementary level, eight in the middle grades (4th - 8th), two at the high school level, and one was a multi-age special education teacher.
4.2 Interview Protocol
All participants were interviewed using a semi-structured interview protocol designed to elicit differences in mentoring across early field experiences, student teaching, and entry year teaching. There were 107 open-ended questions divided into the following sections: demographic information, mentoring background, relationships/dispositions, context for mentoring, mentoring strategies, and mentees' teaching ability. The questions were piloted prior to use in the study for clarity and relevance.
Each participant was individually interviewed a single time concerning his/her mentoring experiences with new teachers, professional interns, and early field experience students. The interviews took approximately two hours and were conducted at a location and time convenient to the interviewer and participant, most often at the participant's school. Each participant was interviewed a single time; however, some participants also participated in two follow-up focus group meetings intended to share and verify study findings.
4.4 Data Analysis
All interviews were audio recorded and transcribed to ensure that all content was accurately captured. Interview transcripts were then prepared for analysis. Two of the researchers did the bulk of the coding using the constant comparative method (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). Each researcher independently coded one interview using an open-coding approach, thereby developing an initial code list from the data. Of the 93 codes produced, the two researchers were in agreement on 63 (68% agreement). The additional 30 codes were reconciled following discussion and utilized to code and analyze the remaining 17 interview transcripts.
After completing the open-coding process described above, axial coding was employed to discern relationships between the codes (Corbin & Strauss, 2008). During axial coding, a constant-comparative method was used to cluster the individual codes into four themes: Teacher Development, Context for Mentoring, Mentoring Relationship, and Mentoring Approach. (See Table 1 for a complete summary of the coding categories.) Each of these themes is divided further into subthemes, and under each subtheme are the coding categories that compose the subtheme.
INSERT TABLE 1 ABOUT HERE.
Teacher Development is a theme associated with the factors related to the growth and development of teacher candidates. This theme is organized into three subthemes: Content Knowledge, Pedagogical Knowledge, and Personal Characteristics. Each of these contains multiple coding categories. The subtheme Content Knowledge includes two coding categories that refer to the mentees' grasp of content knowledge and their ability to differentiate for student diversity. Pedagogy focuses on mentees' capabilities to learn specific teaching skills, such as assessment, behavior management, connecting with students, differentiation/diversity, data collection, lesson planning, and preparation. Personal Characteristics includes observations of the mentees' misconceptions, commitment, openness, prior experience, concerns, confidence, professional behavior, flexibility, initiative, ability level, and deficits.
4.4.2 Context for Mentoring
The theme entitled "Context for Mentoring" is comprised of three subthemes, Relationship Influences, Expectations, and School Environment. Relationship Influences consists of two coding categories that are concerned with the relationship between mentor teachers and mentees, the Mentor/Mentee Match and Interaction Time. The Mentor/Mentee Match refers to the fit between mentor and mentee. Mentor teachers discussed the importance of the mentor/mentee match in relation to student teaching and entry year teaching, but not in relation to early field experiences. Interaction Time refers to the differences in the amount of time the available for mentoring across the three contexts of mentoring. For example, student teaching has the most time available for mentoring and early field experiences have the least.
The second subtheme focuses on Mentor Expectations, which consists of four coding categories associated with different expectations for the experience. The first two coding categories, Standards-based Instruction and Students as a Priority, reflected the mentor teachers' expectation that mentees develop standards-based instruction that addresses their students' needs. The third category in this subtheme describes the mentor's Expectations for the Specific Context. These expectations vary according to the context, for example, differences in expectations for student teaching compared to early field experiences or entry year teaching. The fourth coding category in this subtheme, Candidate Progress, refers to the outcomes for mentees in relation to expectations. When candidates didn't achieve the outcomes as expected, mentor teachers began exerting more effort and using more directive strategies.
The third subtheme under context is called School Environment, which contained two categories. The first category, School /Teaching Procedures conveys to student teachers the importance of classroom teaching strategies and school procedures that influence teaching performance. The second, School Politics/ Policies, refers to the school politics and policies that entry year teachers need to understand to survive their early years of teaching. There was not a related category for early field experiences.
4.4.3 The Mentoring Relationship
The Mentoring Relationship theme is comprised of two subthemes, Prior Mentoring Experience and Time. Both affect the degree to which the mentor teacher and cooperating teacher develop a positive relationship. If mentors had more positive experiences with past mentees, they are more inclined to believe they would have close relationships with future mentees. Similarly, the more time the mentor and mentee devote to the relationship, the deeper and more positive the report of the mentoring relationship.
4.4.4 Mentoring Approach
This theme also consists of three subthemes: Confidence, Mentors' Perceived Role, and Specific Mentoring Strategies. The data associated with the subtheme Confidence indicates that mentors' approaches and specific strategies used in the mentoring process are based on their own level of confidence with mentoring at different levels. Higher confidence is associated with greater experience and a greater likelihood to encourage their mentees to take risks and expand their teaching repertoire. The Mentors' Perceived Role describes the mentor's approach to providing guidance and support, and Specific Mentoring Strategies is organized into four categories Co-Teaching, Guiding, Modeling, and Providing Resources.
4.45 Differences in Mentoring Across Context
The themes described above were further integrated through selective coding, which is the "process of integrating and refining the theory" (Strauss & Corbin, 1998, p. 143). The process is characterized by Corbin and Strauss (2008), thusly:
Concepts are derived from data. They represent an analyst's impressionistic understandings of what is being described in the experiences, spoken words, actions, interactions, problems and issues expressed by participants. The use of concepts provides a way of grouping/organizing the data that a researcher is working with. (p. 51)
The purpose of integrating these four themes was to examine the differences in mentoring across the contexts of early field experiences, student teaching, and entry year teaching. These differences are presented in the Findings.
4.5 Member Checking
To validate the findings, seven of the original interview participants were convened into two focus groups of three and four participants. The codes derived from the analysis were shared with both groups and the participants were asked to comment on their validity. All participants stated that the coding reflected their understanding of the differences in mentoring across contexts. Their comments ranged from "I felt your findings were right in my opinion" to "Right on. That's just the way it works." The participants' also indicated their acceptance of the findings by adding even more examples to support the codes described to them.
In one case, however, the focus group responses conditioned the findings for this study. In response to our finding that nontraditional students were more experienced and therefore more capable in the classroom, one teacher remarked:
I've had some non-traditional little stinkers. It's been awhile, but it's just interesting, probably some of the worst I had at one time were older. I think they had their own ego problems to begin with that got in the way. I would think, generally speaking, probably that's accurate ÂÂÂÂÂ- that an older, more responsible, possibly parent, carries a lot more knowledge and a lot of natural instincts.
The findings suggested considerable variation in mentoring based on individual differences in both the mentors and mentees. However, two elements were common across all three levels of mentoring: 1) Mentor teachers expected teacher candidates to possess a high level of content knowledge or the ability to find the content knowledge needed, and 2) mentor teachers differentiated the ability of their mentees based on their previous experience with children. These findings will be discussed in the first two sections of the Findings.
In the last three sections of the Findings, differences will be compared across student teaching, early field experiences, and entry year teaching. Several elements of the context that influence mentors' perceptions of their mentoring role will be compared in these sections. They include 1) the available interaction time for mentoring and the mentor-mentee relationship that resulted, 2) the university and mentor expectations for mentoring in each context, 3) the level of confidence in mentoring in each context, and 4) the perceived role of the mentor teacher in each of the three contexts for mentoring.
5.1 Content Knowledge
Most mentors generally agreed their mentees' possessed a high level of content knowledge after completing nearly four years of content coursework, with the exception of early field experience candidates, for whom mentors perceived a greater range of knowledge. Mentor teachers do not perceive their role to include teaching content knowledge to teacher candidates, but rather described their role as helping mentees' match the content with children's developmental levels and the scope and sequence for a particular age level. When there are deficiencies, mentor teachers expected their mentees to acquire the necessary content knowledge, as indicated by a teacher below.
If you know you're going to be teaching a lessonâ€¦over a certain content then you need to find out about it, not just take what one book or one piece of paper says. You know, give yourself the background because those kids are going to have questions.
For mentee's whose content knowledge is perceived to be deficient, teachers felt their mentoring is ineffective.
When they don't come with enough background knowledge to deliver the instruction and whether that knowledge is in the curricular area, or to me more importantly, you know, the nitty gritty of teachingâ€¦ the developmental aspects of how you teach a child to learn. If that foundation is not there, it doesn't matter what I say or do.
5.2 Experience with Children
The most important individual characteristic for differentiating mentees is their prior experiences with children, either before entering the teacher preparation program or during field experiences preceding their current experience. Mentors reported that mentees with personal experience with children encounter fewer challenges in making connections and establishing relationships with students. The individual characteristic most associated with experience is age, that is, non-traditional students are generally more experienced than traditional students. Non-traditional mentees, who are defined as those with more life experience than a typical college student (i.e., older than 25 years old), were perceived to be more mature and committed. As one participant pointed out,
I think in my experience there has been a big difference just in maturity level. When I have worked with nontraditional students, they've had another career and have decided that that want to become teachers. So they approach it from a different perspective than a twenty-one or twenty- two year old does and they are bringing that life experience. And they are just a little more mature, settled and seem to be more organized in their approach.
Non-traditional teacher candidates were also reported to have more realistic expectations of the students and a greater willingness to push them harder to achieve. One mentor stated, "Younger kids [traditional preservice teachers] have lower expectations than older [non-traditional preservice teachers]."
Mentor teachers also believed that non-traditional mentees who were parents were more confident in setting higher expectations for their students, as they had a better understanding of child development. As one high school teacher reported,
If they are non-traditional and they are old enough to have parented, sometimes that's a real plus 'cause they have a sense of children and working with children. They bring an awareness that a 20-year-old kid is not necessarily gonna bring in terms of working with young people andâ€¦ and what you can expect and they're gonna be less rattled by some of the things kids say or do 'cause they know that's what these creatures are like.
5.3 Student Teachers
Shared students, shared classroom space, and extended time for interaction led to enhanced, "on-going" communication between the mentor and student teacher during student teaching. Subsequently, mentor teachers experienced the deepest relationship with their mentees and made their greatest commitment to their mentoring during student teaching.
We're always talking. It's really nice because even though a lot of times we may, on days where we're doing the same things we can really talk. And just say okay, "Did you see this over here? This totally didn't work. What about you? You knowâ€¦ Did you see that? Did you catch that? And they're like, "Yeah, what happened?" So we have a lot of just that spur of the moment, whatever is going on talk. And then, in between classes we can kind of sit down and say, okay, these guys are coming in, this is what I'm planning on doing. So you know you get the time during the lesson, which is probably the most valuable. Because that spur of the minute questions when you can talk and interact are the most valuable stuff because it just comes up and you're like, "how are we gonna deal with this?" And if you have the good ones, you know, we always talk after school. There's about a good 15 minutes you can just kind of sit and kind of debrief and decompress afterwards.
The shared responsibility of the classroom and the extended involvement caused mentor teachers to feel especially responsible for the student teacher's development, and consequently, they invested extensive time and energy into developing relationships in this context.
More time [is spent with student teachers] and you develop, you build that relationship and you get to know each other and you learn from each other. 'Cause I'm always open to what they can bring in from what they're learning to the classroom and hey, let's try it out. I'm not set in my ways and I change I think every year, so I'm always open to student teachers because I want them to bring something to the classroom because I want to learn something new.
Mentors repeatedly stressed that a primary outcome of the student teaching experience was to ensure the candidate felt confident and had the necessary skills to be successful, as illustrated by the following comment:
They watch. They watch the teacher that they have. Okay. They'll watch me and how I get along with the kids and what I do and what I say. And they will try to mimic in a fashion what I do because that's what kids are used to. But then they'll start doingâ€¦ They'll get to feeling good about themselves and, and they take on their own role, which is even better because their setting their own limits.
All participants reported the greatest confidence in working with student teachers. According to mentoring teachers, the primary focus of the student teaching experience was helping the candidate learn how to operate independently in a classroom, (e.g., to plan and implement a unit of instruction) and manage both the classroom and time. One mentor commented:
They know how to plan. They don't always know how to manage their time. Because a school day isn't as long as we like to think, as it looks on paper. If you lose 5-7 minutes at the beginning of the period, you've got to figure something out because you still have the same amount of content no matter how your class time was affected. So they don't always know how to execute the plan.
Strategies included modeling, questioning, and directed reflection. Mentor teachers conversed with their student teachers throughout the day, providing them with frequent and on-going feedback. When addressing a lack of professional dress or behavior, errors in content delivery, or potentially dangerous situations, mentors reported being more directive with student teachers.
5.4 Early Field Experiences
The limited time allotted to early field experiences influenced mentor teachers to devote less time and effort into mentoring. Teacher candidates were perceived to be transient and lacking in commitment to the classroom in which they were placed. Mentors felt that early field experience students were not in their classroom long enough to form a substantive, or collaborative relationship.
I don't have a lot of time when they come in to a classroom to chitchat and get to know them or me, but I'll always invite them if you have questions you can write them down and leave them on my desk and I'll be glad to take care of those questions or answering them the next time we meet, but I'm not going to stop my class and have a conversation, you know, that would have to happen outside of class.
The mentor teacher's primary goals for early field experience candidates' were to encourage professionalism and to help mentees confirm education as their career choice. They also saw the early field experience as an opportunity to help mentees develop professional teaching behaviors, as illustrated by the following:
They need help interacting with the kids. They don't get nearly enough of that. They get plenty of the paperwork. Plenty of the 'this is how to teach. This is how to do it.' They don't get enough of the hands on. They don't get enough of the throw them in there and just kind of be with the kids. They know how they're supposed to do it, but then when you get them there they kind of freeze.
I've had a couple who were just visibly scared. They didn't seem comfortable in the classroom even observing. Ugh, they didn't want to walk up and down ever and look at what the students were doing or talk to them and that's only a tiny handful and I've always kind of wondered about follow-up. Did they make it or did they pick a different choice?
Mentors expressed the least level of confidence in mentoring early field experiences, primarily because they were just unsure what level of mentoring was expected. Although universities try to distinguish between teacher candidates only required to observe and more advanced teacher candidates required to teach, mentor teachers tended to view nearly all early field experience students as temporary and often silent occupants of their classroom.
Therefore, many acted as models for early field mentees to observe, while some encouraged and expected mentees to be more active in the classroom. If the teacher candidate was required to teach a lesson, mentors would provide feedback, usually verbal in nature and very directive. Mentor teachers often felt the assignments and activities required by the university dictated the mentoring approach. Mentors were willing to answer questions when asked, but rarely were the teacher candidates able to formulate any substantive questions.
They're here probably an hour at a time - maybe once a week. Some of them just sit and observe. So I don't really interact; they're just watching. The others - it's almost a student teaching situation because you're letting them teach and then you're writing up an evaluation as they're teaching and then you get to sitâ€¦ you have a little bit of time to talk to them in between. If they get here on time you have a lot of time to talk to them. And, you know you get to discuss some things. Then during the lesson, you're watching and then after the lesson you have about five minutesâ€¦ before the next class. And then at the endâ€¦ if you get them before lunch, I can talk to them for 20 minutes. But if it's between another class -five [minutes]. So, your interaction time is not a lot. So it's down and dirty. I mean, you have to be pretty direct with them.
5.5 Entry-Year Teachers.
Mentors described their mentoring approach as being "totally available," but were less likely to initiate meetings or topics of conversation with entry year teachers than student teachers. Generally, mentors let the entry year teacher take the initiative in regards to requesting a meeting or introducing topics for conversation. Often interactions were dependent upon chance occurrences after school, or more rarely, in district-supported mentoring meetings. Due to the limited time available to meet during the school day and the physical distance between classrooms, mentors often felt both a sense of physical and emotional distance from their mentees.
However, mentor teachers perceived entry year teachers as true colleagues, with whom they were willing to invest in a long-term supportive relationship.
It's what I would consider the longest time that you would be with somebody. And it's a great responsibility to help someone out and to get them through that first year because it is undoubtedly probably the hardest year they're ever going to have. Unless they have other firsts and, you know. But in general, that's usually their hardest year. And you don't want to give them the snowball job either because it is hard. But yet you want them to come out of it being as strong as they can and having felt like their first year is over and they can conquer anything. So, I think there's a great responsibility to them.
Mentors reported that entry year teachers needed help managing all the responsibilities inherent in a classroom teacher's role, in particular, managing the myriad responsibilities associated with teaching and year-long curricular planning. Classroom management, differentiating instruction, and time management were also subjects of concern in the discussions between mentors and mentees. One mentor described a typical set of mentee questions:
How do you get it all done? How do you get all the content covered in such a short period of time? How do you take care of this kind of situation? What would you do in this kind of situation? [What's] the best way to approach timing things, and how much to grade, or how much to assign, and how many points? And trying to sort out what's a good balance.
Mentors also saw part of their role as helping entry year teachers to establish relationships with other professionals in the school and to learn about the school more broadly, such as the policies, practices, and procedures. As one mentor put it:
They don't know all of the outside - beyond that classroom work that's going to be part of their life now. That's often, you know, the teacher does that never lets that go to the student teacher, that you still take care of. And they get the feel for everything that first year.
Mentor teachers reported less confidence when mentoring entry year teachers than student teachers. They generally presumed the entry year teachers were self-sufficient in the classroom, were careful not to interfere with what the entry year teacher was doing, were somewhat tentative in their approach, and generally took a non-directive approach by listening and offering support and suggestions, except when responding to specific questions regarding school policies and procedures. Mentoring teachers rarely modeled their teaching or observed the entry year teacher unless it was a requirement of a prescribed mentoring program or requested by the entry year teacher.
I think for the entry year in my two experiences, it was more encouragement and no, not giving up, and helping them in the directions they needed help. I'm not as forward with an entry year teacher as I may be with the professional intern. You know, with them I'm there I step back and even though I'd like to see, well, here's what I think, you know. I still may question the same thing... would you do something differently next time? Or what did you notice about so-and-so (mentioning a specific student)? How do you know they were able to grasp the concept? What did they do that led you to believe it was successful or mastery?
Mentor teachers described a wide range of highly individualized personal characteristics and teaching skills of their mentees, although two common themes did emerge. First, mentor teachers expected their mentees to either possess a high level of content knowledge or to obtain it quickly, and second, mentees were perceived as more capable if they had more experience working with children. The first finding underscores the importance of sufficient content preparation before engaging in clinical settings, and the second suggests that acquiring experience with children is one of the most important pedagogical outcomes of a clinical experience. Further, these findings indicate that mentors perceive their primary role to facilitate the pedagogical development of their mentees. When the pedagogical development of mentees did not meet expectations, mentors invested extra effort and used more directive mentoring strategies.
Mentoring relationships were influenced by two elements of the context: the mentor-mentee match and interaction time. These findings suggest a positive benefit for teacher education programs that develop procedures for matching mentors and their mentees. The largest benefit would be expected at the student teaching level, the experience that elicited the greatest commitment from mentors. Providing time for mentors and mentees to interact also improves the context for mentoring, especially for teacher candidates and entry year teachers: the former because their limited time in the field limits their opportunities, and the latter because their busy schedules limits their contact with their mentors.
The mentor's level of confidence was determined by the clarity with which the university communicated its expectations and the mentor's previous mentoring experience. When the mentor teacher had a positive prior experience with mentees and clearly understood university expectations, they were more likely to have confidence in their mentoring, anticipate another positive experience, and build a better relationship with their mentee. Confident mentors who have a better relationship with their mentees were willing to take more risks and employ a wider range of strategies. Therefore, it is essential that field experiences are carefully designed and expectations are clearly communicated with whatever means available.
An additional approach to building mentor confidence and encourage better mentor-mentee relationships would be to offer professional development in mentoring.
In the following sections, we offer recommendations for improving mentoring in each of the three mentoring contexts: student teaching, early field experiences, and entry year. These recommendations are intended to improve the mentoring relationships, the confidence level of mentors, and the strategies used by mentors.
6.1 Supporting Student Teacher Mentors
Ample time for interaction, close collaboration, and well-understood university expectations led to the strongest mentoring relationships and the highest level of confidence with mentoring at the student teaching level. To further improve the mentoring relationship, we recommend that teacher preparation programs develop procedures for matching mentor teachers and their mentees, perhaps through interviews or other screening processes. We also recommend that mentors and student teachers should be provided with opportunities for relationship building prior to the field experience. This would offer an opportunity for forming a deeper relationship and ultimately resulting in better mentoring. To minimize the negative experiences of mentor teachers, we recommend on-going communication and clear procedures for quickly removing low performing teacher candidates and student teachers from field placements. Implementing such procedures would also encourage mentor teachers to accept future mentees.
Mentor teachers clearly had the best understanding of the expectations for student teaching compared to early field experiences and entry-year teaching. Even so, teacher preparation programs should be prepared to provide clear communications concerning changing expectations, such as the introduction of new performance-based assessments or the expansion of clinical experiences. Mentor teachers would also benefit from professional development that shows them how to be more reflective in the nature and depth of feedback they provide, in order to address the complex responsibilities assumed by the student teacher.
6.2 Supporting Early Field Experience Mentors
Two major concerns with mentoring during early field experiences were the lack of time for interactions and a lack of explicit guidelines from the university. The lack of time and direction often caused teacher candidates to appear passive, lacking in commitment, and unprofessional. As a consequence, mentors often used more directive mentoring strategies. Our first recommendation for improving the effectiveness of mentoring during early field experiences is to lengthen the interaction time, both in the field and with the mentor teacher. Lengthening early field experiences provides more time for mentoring interactions and a better opportunity to build a stronger relationship. It would also provide candidates with more experiences with children, thus deepening their experience and providing a stronger basis for mentoring conversations.
Second, mentor teachers should be shown how to engage teacher candidates in the classroom by assigning them to one-on-one tutoring, working with small groups of students, or assisting with whole class instruction. As part of their professional development, mentor teachers should also acquire an understanding of how to design a sequence of experiences that will foster the development of their teacher candidate. In addition, mentor teachers should be provided with a repertoire of quick, easy to administer, formative and summative evaluation tools that can be used with early field candidates as a way to provide feedback when faced with time constraints.
6.3 Supporting Entry Year Mentors
Mentors of entry year teachers tended to approach new teachers by establishing a collegial, long-term relationship with them. They preferred that induction year teachers take the initiative with regard to scheduling meetings or introducing topics for conversation, chose to offer their mentees emotional support and noncritical observations, and were hesitant to provide feedback that could be perceived as evaluative. However, waiting for entry year teachers to ask for assistance can be problematic if they are struggling but unwilling or afraid to bring attention to themselves. In addition, interaction time was often limited between mentors and their entry year mentees. Therefore, we recommend that interaction time be incorporated into mentoring programs for entry year teachers. Further, we encourage professional development that provides mentors of entry year teachers the opportunity to practice having "difficult" or challenging conversations in a non-threatening way.
Study findings also indicated that mentor teachers were often unclear about expectations for mentoring entry year teachers. Therefore, mentor teachers could also benefit from professional development that would provide strategies to support entry year teachers with classroom-related issues, such as motivation and classroom management; and school-related issues, concerning the school's politics and policies.
7. Conclusions and Future Research
The strategies of individual mentor teachers vary according to the developmental level of their mentees, the type of relationship they have with their mentees, and confidence in their mentoring. Mentors tend to use more directive mentoring strategies when working with low performing candidates, when they don't have a strong relationship with their mentees, and when they are not clear about the expectations for the mentoring. Mentoring teachers can best be supported by carefully matching mentees with mentors, by structuring sufficient time for the mentor and mentee to interact, and by clearly communicating expectations.
As school-based preparation becomes more central to teacher education, the role of mentoring will continue to grow in importance. This study has shown that the performance of mentor teachers varies depending on the capabilities of the mentee and the context in which the mentoring occurs. Further research could provide a deeper understanding of how teacher preparation programs can better support mentoring and thereby improve the quality of their clinical experiences.