It has to be hoped that the teacher whose class is being used for the practice is happy that they will be having a student. I have met mentors who have complained at the outset that the student was a last minute change to plans. It is equally important that the trainee is introduced to the class in positive terms, so that their status is not undermined from the beginning.
For preference, the mentor will have received some training beforehand, so that they are prepared as fully as possible to understand the pattern of the school experience, the necessary paperwork, the need for the student to complete task for the university during the practice, the teaching demands that it is reasonable to make at different stages.
The school experience has to start with a modest apprenticeship, usually during a short familiarisation period (1 week) approach as the trainee familiarises themselves with the school layout, the policies and practices, timings and the individuals who make up the class, including any TAs who make up the team. They need to be introduced to key staff, subject leaders, SENCo, caretakers. They need time to gather their thoughts about the intended plans and their part in this. To create an overview diary, for the whole practice, that details the growing demand, while still keeping track of extraneous demands, is a good means of keeping everyone on track.
The overriding need is for the student to have the time and space to develop as a rounded teacher, able to show that they can evidence their progress against the eight teacher standards. The personal side of this is likely to be evident early (8,1,7 and 4).
8) They will show professionalism in all aspects of their approach, to relationships and to their focus on the tasks in hand. They will be self-developers, not completely reliant on others in order to function.
1) They will have some idea about the character of a well-run class, have appropriately high outline expectations about children as learners, which will be “coloured in” during the school experience.
7) They will understand the importance of good behaviour, understand the school system and work effectively within that; in doing so, showing that they can operate independently.
4) They are ordered and organised in all things, but especially in their planning and record keeping.
The remaining standards rely on their understanding of the needs of the class in front of them, especially with regard to their learning outcomes to date and the expectations of their progress over the time of the practice. This can be summarised as knowing the children well, planning for challenge and progress, running an effective lesson, engaging with ongoing learning and then reviewing outcomes to support decision making. (24652)
It is important that the mentor forms a strong coaching relationship with the trainee, that recognises that (s)he has strengths developed over a number of years and that there will still be some developmental needs, not least knowledge of the children. They need to be sensitive to their context; each school and each class can be subtly different, often as a result of that teacher. They need to recognise that the student may turn out to be a stronger teacher that they are and acknowledge significant success without rancour. A jealous teacher can damage a potentially excellent colleague.
Sensitive professional support and challenge is the hallmark of high quality mentoring. The trainee will not necessarily be expecting everything to be high quality from the beginning, so they need regular feedback that supports their development, but which doesn’t rely on just hints and tips. There has to be a clear rationale behind all support. The mentor does need to know the Teaching Standards, so that they can work within these parameters, as a whole.
Observations, both informal and formal, are points where the mentor has seek to suppress personal bias and seek to see the lesson for what it is. It is possible later, during the debrief, to clarify, through questions, the trainee intentions, outcomes and their evaluation of progress made in the lesson. Alternative strategies can be offered, for consideration. As a Link Tutor, I would advise a mentor to offer in-lesson prompts as development, if it is obvious that a tweak is needed, where not to do so will jeopardise a positive outcome. In-ear coaching might be available in some situations.
Discussions should always be of a professional nature, as the mentor is the professional model that the trainee will work to in that setting. Encouraging the student to self-evaluate is key to them becoming fully self-reliant. They need clarity if they are to come up with their own solutions when operating independently. A developing relationship will alter the mentor-trainee relationship over the time of the practice.
Joining in with in-school training, staff discussions, meeting with in-school experts all contribute to the trainee understanding of the breadth of demand on a soon to be teacher. They need to recognise that it is a team game with colleagues relying on each other to do what is expected of them. At the same time, they may need advice on how to maintain a balance, avoiding burning the candle at both ends.
Where problems occur.
Planning. There is a need for the trainee to have an overview of the learning that will take place over the time of the practice. The medium term plan enables single lessons to be seen in context. It is possible, early in the experience, to structure a week so that the trainee is a part of the whole, rather than just being involved in a planning single lessons.
- Work together on the week’s plan, eg for English, but could be any subject.
- Teacher leads lesson 1, student observes and participates with a group, discussion after.
- Student prepares lesson 2, teacher informally observes, participates with a group, then feeds back to student in an exchange of views.
- Student prepares lesson 3, as in 2.
- Teacher leads lesson 4, as in 1.
- Student leads lesson 5, as in 2 but this time observed formally.
- Both teacher and student review the week, including book scrutiny to ascertain progress and to make plans for the forthcoming week. Student keeps evidence of outcomes and progress discussion for portfolio.
Where a school takes a student but they are seen as just one teacher’s student, this can become self-limiting. The trainee should be enabled to make use of the full range of expertise available within the school.
Trainees need to learn how to talk with parents, so taking opportunities to sit in on teacher-parent discussions is important.
Mentors need to loosen their grip as the practice progresses, so that the student can be seen to operate independently. In a few weeks, they may well become a colleague in the school. It is not uncommon for a student on experience to be employed by the school.
Mentors and their schools are helping to train the teachers of the future. Their role is an essential one, as the system needs a supply of high quality trainees developing into high quality teachers.
Some universities offer mentoring modules that offer certification, including up to Master’s level.