Source: Teachers and Teaching: theory and practice, Vol. 19, No. 6, 679–694, 2013
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
The aim of this study was to inquire into the professional development of French secondary- trainee teachers.
Four hundred and seventy-three secondary trainee teachers were asked to complete a questionnaire in which they rated to what extent 28 teaching competencies were being acquired at the end of the one-year training, along with the learning mode of these competencies.
The results first showed that learning in the workplace is a multifaceted process including mentoring, learning with experienced colleagues and learning by oneself from classroom teaching. Because trainee teachers tended to cite colleagues more often than mentors, it appears that workplace learning cannot be curtailed to mentoring. However, among the three learning modes underpinning workplace learning (remember that learning with peers was viewed as a formal learning mode unfolding in the teacher training institutes), learning by oneself from classroom teaching exhibited a weaker impact on competency acquisition.
Throughout mentors are always ranked before teacher educators even though many teacher educators are also tutors observing trainee teachers while teaching. Trainee teachers always gain more benefit from classroom observations provided by mentors.
The authors argue that the findings of this research have allowed them to claim that there is a relationship between learning modes used for the competencies to be acquired and the content of these competencies.
Mentors and colleagues: formal vs. informal mentoring?
The results highlight the prevailing role of colleagues. It is necessary to think about the reasons why colleagues may have a pivotal role in teacher training. The authors argue that mentoring relationships can emerge and be strengthened over the course of the year when teacher students collaborate or exchange with experienced teachers that were not designated mentors. By contrast with formal mentoring, informal mentoring is not grounded on trainee-teachers’ observations in the classroom; furthermore, it is a distributed mentoring in so far as it rests on several persons instead of only one.
In formal or informal mentoring talks, there are various roles that can be taken on: a model encouraging the trainee teacher to emulate his or her way of teaching, an advisor reacting to questions and giving tips and advice, an evaluator pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of the performance, a coach focusing primarily on emotional support, or a stimulator encouraging a trainee-teacher’s reflection about his or her own practice. In this study, trainee-teachers need to be evaluated and challenged, but they expected mentors to be coaches, too – a role likely to be embraced more easily by colleagues.
This study has some implications for teacher education.
First, the allocation and structuring of work is of a paramount importance for workplace learning to be effective either by learning from others or by learning alone on the job. The learning process is undermined by defensive behaviors triggered off to cope with anxiety. The work should also be organized in such a way that it enables meetings and relationships with more experienced colleagues. Thus, for cooperating with colleagues to be a channel for acquiring teaching skills, contextual factors related to allocating and structuring of work should be satisfied. Until 2010 the school-based placement for secondary-trainee teachers had met these conditions in France.
Second, the findings suggest that mentoring practices could be improved. For this the mentors’ training has to promote a wide view of mentoring beyond technical support and short-term goals. In addition, such a training should take into account the trainee teachers’ needs and concerns as they change over time.
Third, teaching competencies are being acquired on the basis of several learning modes, formal and informal learning on workplace (e.g. class management), formal learning on both workplace and teacher institute (e.g. designing) or formal and informal learning on workplace and formal learning in teacher institute.
Trainee teachers need to be provided with pedagogical devices that make it possible for them to integrate not only different sources of practical knowledge but also theoretical knowledge and practical knowledge. A key role of teaching training institute is then to support the integration of different types and sources of knowledge by means of mediating tools.