Thriving, not just surviving: The impact of teacher mentors on pre-service teachers in disadvantaged school contexts

November 2020

Source: Teaching and Teacher Education, Volume 96

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This paper explores the perceptions held by mentor teachers in schools that are school partners in the National Exceptional Teaching for Disadvantaged Schools Programme (NETDS) program at Western Sydney University.
There are few published studies that have explored the views of school mentors who work in disadvantaged school contexts.
This study explored the following question:
“In what ways do mentor teachers perceive they can most effectively support pre-service teachers during their professional placements, and help prepare them to teach in disadvantaged school contexts?”

The data was drawn from a qualitative study exploring the perceptions held by nine mentor teachers about how they feel they can most effectively support pre-service teachers during their professional placement and prepare them for teaching in disadvantaged school contexts.

Nine mentor teachers with teaching experience ranging from three to twenty or more years participated in this study.
These mentors are currently teaching in four New South Wales secondary schools, which may be categorized as ‘disadvantaged’ based on their schools’ socio-educational circumstances (Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, 2011).
These secondary schools were part of the NETDS program, and part of a competitive Western Sydney University School of Education seed grant research project conducted and completed in 2019.

Data collection
Qualitative, semi-structured, individual interviews (Denzin & Lincoln, 2018) were conducted with nine mentor teachers.
These mentors initially completed a short survey containing twelve closed questions about the impact of mentors on pre-service teachers during professional placement.
Based on their responses, it was determined that interviews would enable a deeper exploration of their insights.
This paper focuses on the interview data only.
Participants were interviewed once, and interviews lasted between 40 and 60 minutes each.
The ten questions which were used as a guide for these semi-structured interviews were formulated based on responses drawn from pre-self-efficacy surveys that all NETDS pre-service teachers complete upon entering the program at Western Sydney University.
Interviews included discussions about the mentor teacher’s perceptions about their role and responsibilities as a mentor teacher, specifically in a disadvantaged school context, as well as how they felt they could be of benefit through the mentoring relationship to a pre-service teacher.

Findings and discussion
This article explores the perceptions of nine mentors who are currently teaching in disadvantaged schools that are partnering in the NETDS program at Western Sydney University.
Their views offer insights into how they feel they can most effectively support pre-service teachers during their professional placements in preparation for teaching in disadvantaged school contexts.
Whereas it may be hoped that most mentor teachers aim to provide support, and offer opportunities for pre-service teachers’ professional development, the mentors in this study emphasized that in addition to these dual aims, being mindful about the impact of contextual factors influences how they teach and how they mentor.
Drawing on Fraser’s (2008) three dimensions of social justice as a lens to explore the perceptions of these mentors, this paper contends that socially just education is shaped by a concern for economic (redistribution), cultural (recognition) and political justice (representation).
In this study, mentors emphasized that teaching in disadvantaged school contexts involves a recognition of the students, taking into consideration their diverse backgrounds and life experiences, as well as a belief that these students should have access to a quality education without being hindered by contextual factors.
Acting somewhat as an indirect voice for their students, the mentors in this study stressed that students in disadvantaged school contexts deserve quality teachers who have a sound content knowledge and who are able to adapt to meet the needs of the students.
These mentors felt that mentoring provides them with an opportunity to, as Emma persuasively explained:
‘help form, shape and influence the very people who will be caring for the very students that I say I care about’.
Therefore, opportunities during the practicum for the pre-service teachers to observe exemplary teaching and to develop their own teaching style were considered to be part of this shaping process.
This desire to prepare teachers who are committed to social justice (Burnett & Lampert, 2011) and want to make a difference in disadvantaged school contexts was also evident in mentor responses about the support they offer preservice teachers.
Their support was focused on building capacity and a growth mindset, encouraging collaboration with other teachers, and giving the pre-service teachers the freedom to learn from their mistakes.
Well-prepared mentor teachers working in a supportive enabling learning environment have the potential to impact preservice teacher development.
By developing a sense of belonging in pre-service teachers, mentors foster an opportunity for preservice teachers to contribute to the school and its community.
Through collegial inquiry and innovation, mentor teachers reinforce capacity building, confidence and a sense of capability in preservice teachers that ultimately deepens the professional learning both now and into the future.
Pre-service teachers can thereby learn not only how to survive their professional placement, but also how to thrive as teachers in disadvantaged school contexts.

ACARA [Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority]. (2011). Guide to understanding ICSEA. Retrieved from
Burnett, B., & Lampert, J. (2016). Teacher education for high-poverty schools in Australia. The national exceptional teachers for disadvantaged schools program. In J. Lampert, & B. Burnett (Eds.), Teacher education for high poverty schools (pp. 73e94). Dordrecht: Springer.
Denzin, N. K., & Lincoln, Y. S. (2018). Introduction: The discipline and practice of qualitative research. In N. K. Denzin, & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), The Sage handbook of qualitative research (5th ed., pp. 1e26). Los Angeles: Sage.
Fraser, N. (2008). Scales of justice: Reimagining political space in a globalizing world. Cambridge: Polity Press. 

Updated: Jun. 17, 2021