Source: Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, Vol. 20, No. 3, August 2012, 343–360
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
The purpose of this study was to examine preservice teachers’ connections of pedagogical knowledge to mentoring at-risk high school adolescents as an approach to enhance preservice teachers’ pedagogical understanding.
In this qualitative study, the authors used a grounded theory approach and constant comparative analysis to examine preservice teachers’ written responses to an open-ended questionnaire about their experiences mentoring at-risk students. The participants included 59 undergraduate high school preservice teachers, 35 females and 24 males, from different content areas enrolled in a field-based course at a large southwestern university.
Major findings for preservice teachers’ connections between pedagogical knowledge and mentoring at-risk adolescents reflected five themes.
A) Relationship Building
Relationship building refers to relational factors associated with student interactions and the importance of getting to know the student. Preservice teachers’ sincere regard for their mentee might be an initial step in developing the importance of understanding students’ personal circumstances in order to influence them academically.
Further, their understanding of the influence of teacher–student relationships can serve to initiate interactions with students to communicate a genuine respect for them. By building a positive relationship, preservice teachers are in a position to confirm high school students’ social, psychological, and academic needs. The findings indicate that preservice teachers enjoyed the time spent with their mentee and the opportunity to know them on a limited personal level. Moreover, mentoring at-risk youth provided preservice teachers with an authentic opportunity to relate to a student and embrace the understanding of the critical nature of conveying positive dispositions towards students.
B) Academic Immediacy
Academic immediacy refers to the cognitive and affective instructional scaffolding provided to students during the mentoring sessions. Preservice teachers provided academic assistance while working with at risk youth. Therefore, providing opportunities for preservice teachers to apply their learning and to develop professionally in authentic situations can enhance their pedagogical knowledge.
C) Embracing a Professional Lens
Embracing a professional lens, describes aspects related to thinking like a professional. Through the mentoring experience, preservice teachers were able to seize the opportunity to advance their transition from students to professional. Their aspirations to become professional educators are supported by their perceptions of success and the positive aspects of working with at-risk high school students serve as a link between an emergent professional lens and their desire to pursue the profession.
D) Student-Centered Pedagogical Philosophy
A student-centered pedagogical philosophy focuses on the academic success of the mentee. A teacher should be flexible and willing to use instructional approaches that will support a student’s academic needs. The data revealed that by interacting with at-risk high school students, preservice teachers acquired a genuine interest in both understanding and responding to the specific diverse needs of students. Thus, preservice teachers were beginning to embrace a student-centered philosophy, because the student’s needs influenced their instructional behavior. By providing academic support, preservice teachers were able to positively contribute to the mentee’s school experiences and success in the classroom.
E) Self-Efficacy Factors
Self-efficacy factors refer to preservice teachers’ perception of their own ability to provide academic support to at-risk youth. Also, according to the participants, their ability to keep their mentee focused on school work was a challenge. Moreover, preservice teachers were challenged with their lack of content knowledge and approaches to management and motivation. These mentoring challenges reflect a narrow scope, suggesting their level of pedagogical development.
In this study, the authors determined that although preservice teachers enhanced their pedagogical capacity through mentoring at-risk students in school settings, they also experienced some challenges. First, the participants commented on the importance of building a relationship with their mentee and acknowledged that sincerely knowing a student can change negative opinions. This finding supports the notion that university preservice teachers’ mentoring experiences have the potential to positively influence their outlook towards others who may be culturally unique to them. Therefore, teacher preparation programs must continue to stress the importance of appropriate teacher–student relationships, but more importantly, ensure preservice teachers have access to various strategies and techniques to build community within the classroom.
The participants valued the experience of providing academic immediacy to their mentee, because it provided them with an opportunity to practice and use the instructional methods they learned in class. The mentoring experience served as a vehicle that enabled the participants to actually perceive themselves as professional teachers rather than student observers, and fostered a student-centered pedagogical ideology while practicing their future craft.
By mentoring at-risk students, preservice teachers gain an awareness of the actual needs of students and test their own capacity to teach, thus confirming their aspirations of becoming a professional educator. the authors suggest that preservice teachers may expand their professional capacity through a mentoring initiative, but they may also experience frustration. Thus, interventions such as strategies for working with at-risk youth and providing class time to reflect and to discuss the successes and challenges associated with mentoring, may serve as a scaffolding approach to further develop pedagogical knowledge and skills.
The authors conclude that these findings advance the notion that mentoring at-risk students is a promising avenue to expose preservice teachers to the real demands and expectations of teaching, thereby enhancing their pedagogical knowledge and skills.