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In my endeavor to develop my mentoring practice, during my weeks of observation and reflection, I realised that teaching and learning theories learnt from training courses did not always fit in the practice as desired and Schön (1987, p.4) also identified these complexities of practice in his literature:
"â€¦the problems of real-world practice do not present themselves to practitioners as well-formed structures. Indeed, they tend not to present themselves as problems at all but as messy, indeterminate situations â€¦"
In such uncertain circumstance, I believe that my mentee or any other "beginning teachers" (Harrison et al, 2005, p.420) must be finding themselves struggling to surmount the doubt surrounding the idea that theories learnt during a training might not be the final product which one can use in the professional teaching (Sundli,2007, p. 213). With such abstruseness in mind of a teacher, as a learning mentor, I firmly believed that 'mentoring' would be able to complement the professional development (Harrison et al, 2006, p.1057) and help to conceptualise new ideas of practice by a more knowledgeable and experienced person who would actuate a supportive role of overseeing and encouraging reflection and learning within a less experienced and knowledgeable person(Robert, 2000, p.162). Likewise, Hobson(2002) and Tomlinson (1995) also cited that mentoring had been increasingly acknowledged and used in the training of new teachers in school-based practice in the last two decades but it is a debatable issue that despite this increase in activity, there is limited evidence about the effectiveness of mentoring (Harrison et al, 2006, p.1056). Nonetheless, it has been a traditional method that the old and more experienced teachers play the role of guiding the beginning teachers (Harrison et al, 2006, p. 1062). In the subsequent paragraphs of this assignment, I will expose my weaknesses and strength as a training mentor as well as the difficulties that I came across in this experience. Furthermore, in quest for anonymity, I used the name of Florence for my mentee.
I have taught Biology for almost five years now and Florence, my mentee, joined the teaching profession two years ago immediately after her graduation, without any professional training in education. However, this was an opportunity to learn for both of us, as I would be developing skills while mentoring her and she would be benefitting from my teaching experiences as described by Rockoff (2008). When I asked her if I could provide her with some support in her teaching, she became very enthusiastic and asked me when would be starting. When we embarked on the journey, our initial mentor-mentee meeting was obviously opening new horizons of thoughts and we could see the difference in terms teaching experience. In order to progress with my mentee, I needed to judge my own practicability (Cain, 2009, p.58) as a mentor, and I needed a critical reflection of my own practices and skills in teaching so as to be able to evaluate her and promote an equitable relationship in our mentor-mentee training. Besides, Maynard (2000, p. 25) also mentioned that mentors should neither impose nor they should dictate the content of students neither activities nor the teaching method used. He further stated that student teachers recognised that they were individuals who needed to form their own identity as a teacher and their own teaching style. Following this, I decided to review my approach and I decided to listen more to my mentee and to provide her with any help she would require. Hence, I tried to be non-judgmental on all the approaches I used to convince my mentee on different issues which arouse during the course of the mentoring and I also tried to bring out the solutions from her.
Initial Meeting with mentee
Before the class observations my mentee and I had an initial meeting where we discussed various aspects of teaching and obviously our objectives. In our meeting, I tried to draw a picture of mentoring experience by explaining to her the mentoring process, and how my guidance could be helpful in developing her teaching skills as well as becoming reflective on her own work. Russel (2005, p.199) stated that many professional educators have recourse to pursue reflective practice as an important component of professional preparation which help them in focusing on their own aptitude rather than on the content of subject. We cannot doubt that beginning teachers are indeed knowledgeable people in their subject field but can lack professionalism. Furthermore, Wallace (1991) recognized that teacher's reflections on practice will probably lead understand the actual and practical nature of classroom teaching and this will promote teachers' self-reflexive awareness of their assumptions about language instruction and willingness to explore how their implicit theories match or do not match their teaching (Rodríguez, 2008 p.92). I wanted Florence to focus on her own teaching practice and to help her in a self-evaluation (Copland, 2010, p. 467) process. Moreover, we also discussed on the procedural steps in of the mentoring practice and how her collaboration (Awaya et al, 2003, p. 52) would be important for a successful outcome.
Prior to the first observation of Florence class on Biology for HSC, I requested if I could consult her lesson plan and apparently she was reluctant but I succeeded in re-assuring her that my aim here was to help her in achievement self-confidence in her work as well in herself . Korthagen and Vasalos (2005, p. 64) view self-confidence as core qualities which are essential in generating teaching and also in the private lives of teachers. They further assert that apart from self-confidence, other core qualities such as courage and goal-directedness characterise core reflection in teachers which aim at building on people's strengths, and positive feelings. Following her reaction, I made it a must that I needed to espouse better relation so as not to undermine her confidence. Being under my tutelage, I feared that Florence might misinterpret my suggestion as a forced decision. Hence in order to effectively develop as a mentor it is necessary to have a an equitable relation with my mentee and also, I had to bear in mind that I should have non-judgmental attitude, patience, be supportive and have understanding as positive attributes on her teaching approach (Andrews and Chilton, 2000, p.556). This was not the only contentious issue in my initial training as a mentor, I also had doubt on my own level of preparation and thoughts. Was I prepared enough to evaluate my mentee's teaching style? I had to compensate this lack of self-confidence and this required a new identity reform which would support me in demonstrating skills in appropriate for professional attribute, knowledge and good communication and the motivation to teach and support my mentee (Andrews and Chilton, 2000, p.556).
Despite many remarks Florence remained open to my suggestions and seemed to appreciate these, suggesting that I had not undermined her confidence. She espoused my advices and the relationship remained very friendly. When I analysed her lesson plan, I noticed some weaknesses which definitely had repercussion on her actual lesson. As she did not have much experience, I decided to 'share' my own lesson preparation so that she could further develop her lesson plan by planning a good lesson objectives and outcome. Since we were working in the same department, I deemed it significant to work in close collaboration for planning of work. Likewise, in teaching models, it is suggested that collaborative planning involves teachers sharing their ideas on how work can be delivered for improvement in teaching and learning approaches (DfES, 2004). Certainly, this was a positive aspect where I observed much improvement. With reference to Appendix I, it was suggested that prior to start the class, she would lay emphasis on the lesson objectives both visually and verbally. Reviews in literature haves confirmed that sharing the objectives with the students help them to understand the main purposes of their learning and what they are aiming for and consequently they are more likely to grasp what they need to do to achieve it (DfES, 2004). When I reflected upon this suggestion, I had never applied it in my own teaching. Personally I felt, that, if I had made use of such practical suggestions, it could have helped many students in understanding my lesson. Nonetheless, we know it is never too late to learn and there is always room for improvement in teaching. Furthermore, I asked her about how she could stimulate students' interest in her class and what she can do during her lesson explanation in order to get his students' attention. Interestingly, Florence said that during her lesson, she might choose students and ask them instant question so as to make them more participative and to reward them appropriately with praise. I recommended her that if students get focused at the start of the lesson, it would be motivating and students would be willing to know more. As for her teaching style, I could not underestimate her as she proved to be very effective in her explanation. I praised her for that quality as she her own way of teaching and she was inspiring me. I was learning her way of teaching which for me an advantage was. What she required was a good starter for her lesson as in a proper starter activity; students would be better engaged and motivated as they would feel as though they have learned something (DfES, 2004). Besides, Florence accentuated on her explanation rather than allowing time to evaluate if students had been able to grasp the lesson objectives. While conversing with Florence, I made her realised that she spent much time in her explanation and that she needed balance in her explanation as well as evaluation of her class. Regarding this experience, if I would have recorded her lesson, I think we would have discussed this at greater length. Harford et al. (2010, p.63) commented that student teachers re-structured their subsequent class and paced the lesson more effectively after reviewing their video footage. However, we could consider this option in future mentoring process. In Improving the Climate for Learning, it has been suggested that teachers must clearly set the lesson objectives on the board and through this; the students can quickly identify the expected learning outcomes (DfES, 2004).
I suggested Florence to apply some of my teaching techniques which was in line with BEM (beginning, end, middle) principle of Hughes (1999, in DfES, 2004) as he explained that students learn more at the beginning and the end of learning experience than they do in the middle. Referring to Appendix I, at the end of the first observation meeting, we discussed on several issues to improve teaching and learning of class experiences. Then we agreed of three targets which was the objectives for the next lesson. Florence recongnised that that she needed to have a continual degree of talking throughout the lesson and considerable movement around the class (Harford et al, 2010, p.65). In addition to that, I also realised that she needed to plan her lesson according to the time period allocated, use teaching-aids if available and that she must also works in evaluating her students. While I evaluated her practice, I compared it to my past teaching experiences where I was so engaged in completing my scheme of work rather than focusing on improving the skill of learning of my students. In that aspect, Crosson and Shieu (1995) claimed that "Evaluation is an integral part of the mentoring process and has an important role to play in achieving the aims and objectives of the practice" (Robert, 2000, p.161). Definitely, we all unique identity as teachers and the way that Florence was responding, gave me more confidence in my mentoring abilities. Eventually, at the end of our first meeting, we worked on a proposed targets for the next class as mentioned in the all the appendices.
The subsequent week, the second observation took place in the Biology where Florence had organised her practical session (Appendix II). I could see noticeable changes in her class organisation as we suggested for the lesson plan, and in accordance with the main targets set in the previous feedback meeting. I was surprised to see such transformation in so little time. I assumed that Florence wanted to achieve higher aims in her profession. In this context, Larrivee (2000, p. 295) stated that "the teacher must be able to create authentic learning communities and required to change and adapt their teaching styles that better align with emerging metaphors of teacher as social mediator, learning facilitator, and reflective practitioner". With reference to Appendix II, my mentee also grouped her students to work in pairs. My objective was to make Florence engaged her students in self-assessment and peering since this would bring enlightenment among the students aptitude in learning. As it is mentioned in the Assessment for Learning as suggested by English government policy (DfES, 2004), that students must be involved in peer and self-assessment which would eventually make the students themselves responsible for their own learning. Under such circumstance, the teacher's role would be very crucial as she must be able to give the students appropriate feedback on their performance and also review their work and advise them for further constructive work. Such interaction between the student and the teacher is an essential element of developing understanding and promoting learning. Subsequently, this interaction was not limited to only the teacher-student but we also focused on our relation as mentor and mentee. Initially reflecting on my approach seemed difficult because I thought that whatever criticism and feedback that I expressed was for the betterment of Florence. But how far was I right? When I discussed this matter with another mentor colleague at the school, he said that generally, every person reflects on what they do, but this reflection differs from person to person. According to Korthagen and Vasalos (2005, p.48) said that when teachers generally reflect, it is often influenced by the specific school culture, and the pressure of work often encouraged a focus on obtaining a 'quick fix' rather than shedding light on the underlying issues. This was unusual because it made me reflect if Florence was just trying to get an easy way out for short term. Larose et al, (2010, p127) argued that the role played by the types of experiences may vary significantly based on mentee tendencies, needs and motivations, and program objectives (academic, social, or professional) and also how mentors manage to engage mentees during these experiences. I understood that skills and qualities such as open communication, listening, mutual trust and being supportive should prevail between myself and my mentee.
Florence already knew that I was going to talk about class management. She admitted that she had a few difficulties with some students having problematic behaviour in her lower class of Form IV Biology. I could feel that Florence felt deterred after that class explanation (Appendix III). But instead of raising that issue of class management, I prompted her to see how she could overcome this problem by reflecting on her previous experience as a learner. Even I had been in such situation in the past but with the help of my senior teachers, I succeeded in overcoming such problems in my future classes. It was not an easy task but with a proper class preparation and experiences it was achievable. Harford et al. (2010, p57) commented that teachers were expected to work effectively with students from disadvantaged backgrounds and deal effectively with students with learning or behavioural problems. I decided to share my own experiences of dealing with problem and I expected this could inspire her to venture for a solution which was definitely the case. As a mentor, I needed to raise her moral by supporting her. We talked lengthily on that issue and she recognised that all problems encountered in class must have a solution and that she was not the only teacher that experienced this. Awaya et al. (2003, p.54) concurs that providing moral support tops the list of things that are critical to developing a strong mentor-mentee relationship. She decided to take new initiative to get rid of this problem. She proposed that as a trial she would carry out a class in the Biology laboratory and she would make the students work in group of three. Furthermore, I also iterated to her to that she needed to plan her class according to time allocation.
Final Feedback Meeting
With reference to Appendix III and IV, Florence designated the seating plan for all the students and she knew that classes in the Biology Lab were always arousing curiosity among students. It is known that to many teachers if we separate the group which make most disturbance in class, this tends to create better class environment. As suggested by Ofsted ( 2005, p16) pupils with the most difficult behaviour have a positive response when classrooms are well organised and changing seating plans also helps students with the most challenging behaviour to settle quickly. Furthermore, Florence also discussed with those students who were always making noise in the class and her approach really inspired to me. When I had to deal with such situation, I had the tendency to change my approach and become very severe and I would scold the students on the spot. I realised that this was inappropriate and I learnt that I could also improve my methods to deal with such situation. In that context, I laid more emphasis on the class management as I felt, that this was a major handicap in her teacher development. However, when I discussed my mentee's story line with other mentor colleague, I received several comments pertaining to my mentoring. Many colleagues suggested that I focused mainly in one class of my mentee. Personally I felt that mentoring is a process of nurturing where I could not only focus in only one class but I should select different classes and get an exposure of different problems that my mentee could face in the future. We have to take into consideration that the mentee does not have only one class but she is subjected to students with different age group as well as different social and intellectual background. At every step, I as the mentor must provide appropriate advice and support as my mentee develop the inner confidence. I can look back now and answer honestly that my engagement as a mentor was not as effective as I would have liked in the initial period of mentoring. I was new to the role of mentor and did not fully understand the strength of mentoring. Only completing a module on mentoring, being a trainee mentor and undertaking my assignment really opened my eyes to the potential of mentoring and the role I could play. After evaluating and discussing the mentoring experience with my mentor colleagues, I found that there was room for improvement in my overall approach. As future target, I aimed at improving my mentoring and teaching skills in general and to become more reflective in my work.