Source: Professional Development in Education, Vol. 42, No. 3, 387–402, 2016
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
This study investigates mentor teachers’ and student teachers’ perceptions of the components of a positive mentoring relationship and its impact on the identity formation of student teachers.
This research, which is part of a broader study on identity formation of a number of student teachers, was conducted in one of the largest teacher education programmes at a university in Western Australia.
The participants were eight student teachers from the disciplines of Music (five student teachers) and Drama (three student teachers); and nine mentor teachers.
In addition to the interview data, the participants were asked to use metaphors to describe the mentoring relationship.
The findings revealed that emotional and academic support, an open line of communication and feedback were regarded as key elements of a positive mentoring relationship by both parties.
There was little difference between the perceptions of the two groups but the mentor teachers’ assertions regarded the feedback element as the most significant factor while student teachers showed more concern for having emotional as well as academic support from their mentors. For most of the mentor teachers, providing support meant familiarizing student teachers with the reality of school life so that student teachers could make an informed decision whether to stay in the job or leave it. Yet for the student teachers, support was viewed as constant encouragement and emotional backing to build their confidence.
There was also considerable overlap in the metaphors the two groups used to reflect their perceptions of the mentoring relationship; however, two mentor teachers conveyed the necessity of establishing a power relation in the mentoring relationship, and the rest of the participants in both groups used metaphors that reflected their vision of an egalitarian relationship aiming at growth and fulfilment.
However, a key difference was shown in the participants’ perceptions toward the impact of the mentoring relationship on student teachers’ identity. The research found that student teachers considered the impact of the mentoring relationship on their identity development to be highly significant, whereas only three mentor teachers held this view.
The author argues that at the early stages of practicum, student teachers clearly lack confidence, are intimidated by the challenges they face every single day and second-guess their abilities and the decisions they make. In addition to the strong need student teachers have for learning how to teach, they need constant encouragement and emotional support to overcome feelings of self-doubt and create a positive image of the teacher they want to be. Every comment mentor teachers make could leave a deep impression on their attitudes and perceptions about who they are as teachers and who they want to become.
Therefore, it is highly recommended that mentor teachers value the significance of their role in shaping student teachers’ identity by providing total emotional and academic support and ongoing extensive feedback to help them develop a stronger sense of teacher identity.