Mentoring in Contexts of Cultural and Political Friction: Moral Dilemmas of Mentors and Their Management in Practice

Feb. 10, 2013

Source: Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, Vol. 21, No. 1, 76–95, 2013
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article examines the nature of moral dilemmas mentors from three different national groups (Jewish, Druze, and Arab) encounter in their work in Israeli Arab schools. Specifically, it examines how they manage these dilemmas in practice, and how the nature of particular dilemmas might connect to their management strategies.

The participants were twelve official mentors working in different schools in the northern district of the Arab sector of the Israeli educational system. All participants had over five years of teaching seniority, had been working as mentors for a period of more than three years, and were recommended by their inspectors.
Semi-structured in-depth interviews were used with the mentors.


The findings suggest that in a context of political and cultural friction, such as mentoring in Arab schools in Israel, mentors from different national groups experience professionally moral dilemmas in their mentoring encounters in which personal core values such as truth, integrity, human rights, and physical well-being alongside professional values such as commitment, work ethics, and professionalism are at stake. Overall, Arab, Jewish, and Druze mentors alike displayed a state of helplessness, be it conscious or otherwise, and consequently opted for an instrumental, non-confronting approach to mentoring in order to survive professionally in that context. This finding supports the contention that the political and cultural features of a mentoring context, indeed, play a crucial role in determining what the practice looks like and feels like in the eyes, minds, and hearts of its participants.

In this study, two major contesting discourses seem to shape mentors’ perception of the mentoring practice. One is the centralized mentoring agenda as articulated by the Ministry of Education that views mentoring agenda as reform-driven, with a focus on changing teachers’ attitudes and practices related to the implementation of innovative teaching methods at schools to raise pupils’ academic achievements.
The other discourse pertains to the cultural attribution of the Arab sector as being collective and authoritarian.
The intersection between these two discourses seemed to inform the interpretations mentors bestow upon their mentoring encounters, eventually resulting in professionally moral dilemmas. The mentors described their mentoring encounters in terms of being torn between their work on changing teachers’ attitudes and teachers’ authoritarian and ad hoc working habits.

Culturally Responsive Mentoring Revisited in a Context of Political and Cultural Friction
The proliferation of dilemmas that revolved around issues of identity, cultural difference, and social agency alongside the predominant tendency to avoid confronting these issues constitute strong evidence of the culturally and politically conflictive nature of the mentoring practice.
Furthermore, it would imply becoming aware that any decision not to intervene or raise a particular issue is not reflective of the mentors’ incompetence to act but rather of his/her conscious decision to act responsibly.

These findings illuminate the conflictive forms and meanings that such an assertion takes when trying to conceptualize the role of a culturally responsive mentor in a context of cultural and political friction.

Updated: Mar. 06, 2017