Source: Professional Development in Education, Vol. 38, No. 3, July 2012, 471–485
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
The purpose of this study was to examine beginning primary teachers’ perceptions of their induction and mentoring experiences in their first six months of teaching. The findings show that while there were similarities in how the beginning teachers experienced aspects of induction, their experiences were also diverse and variable.
The participants were 12 graduates of a three-year, undergraduate, primary teacher education degree from one of the largest teacher education institutions in New Zealand.
The primary sources of data drawn on for this paper were the two semi-structured, individual interviews undertaken during the first six months of the participants’ first year of teaching (n = 24).
The findings show that while there were similarities in how the beginning teachers experienced aspects of induction, their experiences were also diverse and variable. The variation in participants’ experience suggests that despite New Zealand’s long-term investment in induction and mentoring, there is plenty of potential to improve the induction and mentoring experiences of beginning teachers.
Furthermore, the findings show that while all of the beginning teachers were allocated a mentor in line with New Zealand requirements, the majority received little or no evaluative feedback on their teaching and there was only one clear example of a beginning teacher who received the type of educative mentoring advocated in the new induction and mentoring policy guidelines (New Zealand Teachers Council 2011). Although mentoring is a key part of New Zealand’s approach to induction, currently there is no requirement for mentor teachers to engage in any form of professional development to prepare them for this crucial professional leadership role.
The findings showed that after the first month of teaching the new teachers did not consistently receive release from teaching, and that by six months one-half of the beginning teachers reported that the 0.2 time allocation was not being used for their benefit but rather to provide cover for other teachers in the school. This suggests that ensuring all schools use the resourcing to provide high-quality professional development for beginning teachers to carry on ‘learning on the job’ will be a significant challenge.
In this study less than one-half of the beginning teachers experienced induction that is anchored in a community of learners who are committed to effective teaching. These novices worked in schools where the focus was on continual teacher learning with professional development being the norm for all teachers. Such an approach enabled these beginning teachers to become part of a professional community of practice, which, in turn, provided them with systematic opportunities to strengthen their knowledge and skills through professional interactions with more experienced colleagues across the school.
This study suggests that, despite New Zealand’s longstanding commitment to the induction of beginning teachers, the opportunities for supporting new teacher professional learning offered by such policy support and resourcing are not being fully utilised. The findings point to the learning and development opportunities open to beginning teachers when they work in schools that recognise their particular needs and have a school-wide commitment to the ongoing professional learning of all teachers. Given the place of mentors in the induction of new teachers, principals have a major responsibility to select and develop mentors who have the skills, inclination and time to undertake the essential and demanding work required of developing beginning teachers’ professional knowledge and skills.