Source: International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education, Vol. 3, No. 3, 2014, p. 219-236.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
The goal of this article is to examine preservice teachers’ perceptions of their learning and teaching experiences in a mentor’s classroom during a year-long field-based placement in a high-need urban school.
In addition, the authors sought to examine how the experiences contributed to their professional growth and development as future teachers.
This qualitative study used constant comparative analysis )Strauss and Corbin, 1998) to examine preservice teachers’ responses to an open-ended questionnaire, program survey, and also in focus groups about their mentoring experiences.
The participants included five mathematics and four science secondary preservice teachers enrolled in a year-long master’s degree granting residency program.
They comprised recent college graduates in various fields ofmathematics and science, as well as business owners, a scientist, a technology consultant, a US army veteran, and an elementary level paraprofessional.
Three of the participants were placed in a middle school and six were assigned to a high school, all secondary high-need schools.
The findings provide insight into participants’ mentors’ influence during a year-long placement and into characteristics of effective mentoring that contributed to their growth.
Major findings of preservice teachers’ mentoring experiences in a high-need urban setting reflected two dominant themes: experiencing a pedagogical fulcrum and navigating the tributaries of professionalism.
A) Experiencing a pedagogical fulcrum
Experiencing a pedagogical fulcrum refers to participants’ recognition of how their course learning, authentic involvement in the classroom, and praxis intersected.
The trust, guidance and support offered by the mentors creates a base of stability upon which the skills and dispositions of the preservice teachers are fomented and developed, and the field experience provides opportunities that foster preservice teachers’ understanding of the balance of knowledge required within the teaching context.
Hence, the influence of the mentor on the preservice teachers’ knowledge was recognized by the residents as they observed, asked questions and co-taught, followed by discussion with the mentor and personal reflection.
This extended time and constant collaboration allowed preservice teachers to connect pedagogy and subject matter coursework to classroom practice.
Furthermore, the mentor’s knowledge of a variety of instructional strategies enhanced preservice teachers’ pedagogical knowledge and skills conducive to a successful classroom. Accepting the preservice teacher as an equal partner in the teaching and learning process can be beneficial to the mentor when there is a willingness to learn from each other, a perspective supported by research on mentor characteristics.
The lack of mentor’s use of classroom technology reflected a failed opportunity to learn from the preservice teacher.
Participants considered the field experience as vital to building classroom management skills and conducive to understanding the complexities of learning to teach and what teaching looks and sounds like in a high-need school.
Overall, the opportunity to learn and to teach in a mentor’s classroom during a year-long placement facilitated an opportunity for preservice teachers to observe, critique, and reflect on the complex nuances of teaching.
B) Navigating the tributaries of professionalism
Navigating the tributaries of professionalism refers to the participants’ process of transitioning from student to educator.
For the majority of the preservice teachers, school culture was defined by past experiences as students.
Six of the nine preservice teachers who were recruited to the residency program from external careers may have had opportunities to establish professional competence in their previous fields of employment, but had little first-hand knowledge of the skills and abilities needed to make an effective transition from student to educator.
For example, the majority of preservice teachers were assigned to schools with distinctly different student demographics from the schools they attended; schools with high concentrations of minority students and students from low socioeconomic backgrounds.
As a result, the extended field experience with a culturally responsive mentor, who understands and respects the diverse languages, cultures and personal experiences of students, was vital to preservice teachers’ ability to gain the knowledge and enhance pedagogical practices to work with diverse student populations.
Hence, developing a greater “cultural intelligence” increased preservice teachers’ confidence levels to better understand diverse students and avoid the pitfall of cultural paternalism where teachers, viewing themselves as superior to their students, establish much lower academic expectations, completely depriving their students of any opportunities to excel.
However, allowing preservice teachers to understand the importance of striking a healthy balance between the demands of the teaching profession and family life can serve to improve professional dispositions and help to mitigate the factors hindering teacher retention. Preservice teachers acknowledged the gains in their professional and personal life as a result of the mentoring relationship.
These findings indicate that preservice teachers placed in a year-long residency with a supportive mentor experienced a pedagogical fulcrum as they gained confidence while balancing their course learning, authentic involvement in the classroom, and praxis. Additionally, they navigated the tributaries of professionalism as they transitioned from student to educator.
The findings suggest that preservice teachers benefited from mentors who were able to help them implement their course learning, modeled effective teaching practices, and explained the nuances of their pedagogical approaches with frequent dialogue.
This influenced preservice teachers’ pedagogical knowledge and skills, and promoted their growth and understanding of the complex dynamics associated with teaching.
In addition, mentors need to explain and to model for preservice teachers how a culturally responsive professional interacts effectively in a high-need school.
This includes understanding and meeting diverse students’ needs; communicating effectively with students, colleagues, and other professionals; and navigating the systemic conventions within the professional community.