Learning to Teach with Two Mentors: Revisiting the ‘‘Two-Worlds Pitfall’’ in Student Teaching

Oct. 01, 2011

Source: The Teacher Educator, 46:335–354, 2011.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article provides a case study of a student teacher (ST) whose beliefs about social constructivist pedagogy were reinforced by the competing views of teaching and mentoring that collided during her student teaching.

This study describes the mentoring experiences of Avril (pseudonym), a graduate student in a university-based teacher preparation program in New England.
Avril is female, young, middle class, and White.

Avril was assigned to work with two veteran CTs in English, Peggy and Doug (pseudonyms), the standard mentoring arrangement at ‘‘Willow’’ High School.

The study draws on qualitative, case study methodology.
The authors began with semi-structured interviews with Avril.
The authors also examined several artifacts from Avril’s student teaching, including her instructional plans; written correspondence and observation notes from her CTs; videotapes of her teaching; e-mail correspondences between Avril and university members; and records from supervision conferences. We also analyzed the interview transcripts and artifacts from Avril’s teacher preparation program.


The authors highlight the significant impact of the cooperating teacher’s approach to mentoring on a student teacher’s developing practice.
Though Avril’s CTs assumed similar teaching roles, their contrasting approaches to mentoring played a key role in shaping Avril’s practice.
Her case highlights the influence of mentoring on STs’ pedagogy.

Peggy’s efforts to help Avril regain control in her classes were too controlling for Avril.
In the end, it was Peggy’s mimetic approach to mentoring that reinforced Avril’s distaste for teacher-centered instruction and fueled her commitment to student-centered, social constructivist practices.

Furthermore, Peggy’s desire for a well-controlled classroom left little room, Avril felt, for her to fail. Avril felt considerable pressure to achieve immediate proficiency when trying to implement her student-centered practices.
When Avril struggled, she received numerous pointers for restoring student order, not student engagement.
In the end, Avril had neither control nor engaging lessons.

Doug assumed a traditional teacher role as well, but his mentoring supported Avril’s teaching stance.
Doug gave Avril the freedom to design her own lessons and make decisions about managing his classes.

With Doug’s mentoring, Avril learned that failure was normal.
Doug gave Avril permission to fail, supporting her to learn from her mistakes.
He helped Avril to see the successes amidst the mistakes. These glimmers of engagement were lost in Peggy’s classes with the focus on control.

These contrasting approaches to failure shaped Avril’s developing practice. Peggy’s modeling of strategies to regain control reinforced for Avril the negative aspects of a teacher-controlled classroom.
Conversely, Doug’s license to fail and recognition of success in Avril’s lessons boosted her confidence and reinforced her commitment to social constructivist practices.


Avril’s case underscores the impact of varying mentoring approaches on STs’ developing practice.
Peggy’s and Doug’s contrasting approaches to mentoring resulted in different learning-to-teach experiences in their respective classrooms.
Avril’s case highlights the need for greater clarity and consensus about the purposes of student teaching, and the type of mentoring needed to achieve these purposes.

Universities need to support STs and CTs to develop the skills needed to engage in educative dialogues about their pedagogical commitments.

Preservice teachers also need better preparation for student teaching. Certification coursework could provide opportunities for STs to practice skills associated with sharing and negotiating contrasting ideas about teaching.

The authors conclude that with the greater involvement of universities in preparing STs and CTs for student teaching, teachers like Avril will have successful student teaching experiences that inspire them to continue learning and growing as educators.

Updated: Jul. 02, 2013