Rudderless as Mentors: The Challenge of Teachers as Mentors

Winter 2009

Source: Action in Teacher Education, v. 30 no. 4, (Winter 2009) p. 56-66.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

Mentors are taking increasingly significant roles in preservice teachers' preparation.
The purpose of this study was to contribute to and expand the scholarship on teaching and mentoring.

The questions guiding this qualitative study were as follows: First, how do mentors gain their expertise? Second, what support do they need to promote their continued development?
The context of this study was a teacher training academy.


The Participants
Eight mentors were selected to represent a range of grade-level, teaching, and mentoring experience. Of the eight participants, two were African American and six were Caucasian.
Seven mentors were female and one was male. Their age range was 27 to 53.
Mentors taught kindergarten through fifth grade and had between 5 and 28 years of teaching experience, and all but one had an urban public school background.
Six participants had mentored for 3 years.
Two were in their 1st year of mentoring.

Data were collected from the mentor teachers in three ways--through individual interviews, focus group interviews, and participant observation.

Results indicate that mentors conceptualized their work into two distinct roles: teaching and mentoring. Although the school provided professional development for both teaching and mentoring, mentors indicated that their mentoring development was insufficient. As a result, mentors lacked a comprehensive understanding of mentoring theories and skills. Unlike with their teaching, which mentors knew how to advance, mentors did not have a knowledge and experiential base to advance their mentoring.


The author forwards three interconnected recommendations based on this study.
First, before mentors begin their work with preservice teachers, they should be provided comprehensive professional development that builds knowledge and recognizes context.
Second, mentoring development must be ongoing, differentiated, and tailored to meet mentors' needs.
Providing ongoing development in the context of their mentoring practice will help mentors deepen their knowledge base, better conceptualize their roles as teacher educators, and improve their skill set.

Third, meetings need to provide a forum for ongoing support tailored to the needs of mentors as they negotiate bringing the theories of mentoring into practice. Mentors need regular opportunities to problem solve and to share experiences and ideas.

Updated: Jul. 15, 2009