An MEITT Mentor's View
Read all about teacher training from the perspective of one of our longstanding mentors, Valerie Farage, Chelmer Valley High School:
What are the issues that can arise when mentoring a trainee teacher? How can these be overcome?
"Trainee teachers come from all walks of society, and with it bring their own personality, culture, life experiences and expectation of the teaching profession, often shaped by their own experiences of education. With an older trainee, issues may arise due to the changing nature of schools, particularly when students see themselves as equal in rank to the teacher, and feel confident to give their views frankly or they challenge rules. They may need to adapt to the more familiar approach and relationship building that exists in schools today between the teacher and their classes. Alternatively, trainees coming straight from university can be quite close in age to the students and have to maintain a very clear distance from pupils who do not recognise the teacher/student boundary, which is more clearly defined by age in an older person. The mentor has to be the person who recognises the individual in each trainee and is able to explain, if necessary, how they will be perceived and what steps can be taken, so that the first and very important meeting of a trainee with their new classes can be successful. The first lesson is key not only to the relationship with the class but also to the ongoing confidence of the trainee. Early success leads to increased confidence and better practice.
"Issues can also arise when a trainee has not fully committed to the very high expectation of teachers. This may arise from the profession being seen as long holidays and short hours or, as a last resort, following a lack of success in other careers, rather than a demanding professional career with its own levels of responsibility. A lack of commitment can be seen in missed deadlines, poorly-prepared lessons, unmarked books and constant excuses for not meeting targets, such as differentiation within lessons. However, this could easily be a trainee who needs more support and help to plan and use their time more efficiently. Trying not to pre-judge a situation and taking time out to talk to the trainee is more likely to lead to a successful intervention and positive outcome.
"Some trainees may sometimes find it challenging to accept constructive criticism and feedback, as this is something that may be a new experience to them. This barrier can sometimes prevent progress and therefore it is vital that a mentor gains the trust and respect of the trainee at the start of the process. Allowing the trainee to observe a variety of different styles of teaching within the school can allow the trainee to become the type of teacher they want to be, but still maintaining the professional standards required. This is also a helpful process if a trainee struggles with the discipline of a particular class, as they can feel empowered by watching an experienced teacher, perhaps within another subject and look at the methods they are using which work.
"Every trainee comes with natural skills and sometimes relevant experiences, such as being a parent themselves. The mentor’s skill comes in trying to identify any issues quickly and then formulating a plan to support the trainee to find ways to move forward. The trainee can learn how to be a teacher of their chosen subject but the mentor also needs to open their mind to the idea that the ability to learn and develop never stops for a teacher."
As a mentor, how do you support a trainee to improve their classroom practice? What is the most impactful strategy that you have used?
"In my opinion, a mentor has to judge what skills, qualities and experiences a trainee brings to the course and what areas they still need to develop. I think the most important thing I try to do is to allow a trainee to be the kind of teacher they want to be. Allowing them to spend a day with as many different teachers as possible and to be exposed to as many teaching styles, as well as the general character of each teacher and their relationship with the class. One of my early discussions with every trainee is to understand what type of teacher they want to be and then to encourage them and to help them to achieve this.
"I think the most impactful strategy I use is to give trainees a very honest view of my daily life as a teacher from day one. When they first start, I prefer to let a trainee spend whole days with me and other members of staff to give a more joined-up view of the time, commitment and organisation required on a daily basis. So they understand the need to be a form tutor, be a year 7 teacher, then teach A level, control discipline at break and so on. All part of a single day as they move between the various roles and requirements of a teacher. I like trainees to see me teach when I am feeling unwell or when I have other issues outside school on my mind, so they learn how to cope with teaching, while maintaining your own wellbeing. Also, to understand that you will not always be on top form in every lesson, and that it is OK to plan simpler, more manageable lessons to fit the teacher’s needs. On occasion. I try to give them strategies to cope with the positive and negative sides of being a teacher, to prepare for a lifelong career."
How do you create agency in trainee teachers in order to prepare them for their NQT year?
"Most trainees I mentor have always wanted to be a teacher, and for them, it has been a long-term plan to become a trainee teacher in a school, requiring academic qualifications, taken over a number of years. This is evident from their eagerness to learn and the desire to accept any opportunity to take over a task, or eventually a class. They are excited to call the register for the first time, take notes to remember how to access online programmes and attend all meetings, even checking they have the correct time or date. Their desire to be the best teacher they can be, shows respect for the profession and a desire to join the profession, as well as acknowledging their personal education, which they often look back at for reference.
"However, how do you manage a trainee who has answered the advert for a job for life, with 13 weeks holiday and short hours. It just happens to be as a teacher and if they already have the required qualifications to commence training, it becomes a lifestyle choice and not a vocational calling. This lack of passion for teaching needs to be addressed as it is at the heart of every lesson a trainee plans and affects every student they teach. Trainees usually need teaching how to do things and require encouragement to develop their own teaching style but a trainee without a passion for teaching? This is at the very heart of my view of what being a teacher means, to put someone else first. Can you survive teaching if you don’t have a passion for it? Should you be teaching?
"Trainees need to be passionate about teaching to be able to survive their early years in a school, so they look forward to each day. It makes them more resilient to disappointments and any failures. They also need to build up confidence in their teaching, which comes through constructive advice given by people whose judgement they trust. They need opportunities to improve, to understand how you go back in to teach a class after a bad lesson and that having an occasional bad lesson happens to all teachers. Sympathy and understanding of any failures in the early days followed by suggestions of alternative strategies to use in future, to give them the tools to move forward. Trainees deserve lots of praise (in private and public) and acknowledgement of their successes.
"They need to feel that they are already a teacher by the time they approach the end of their training year. They need the skills to run multiple classes, to understand when to seek further help and to confidently do that. They need to understand that the learning process will continue throughout their teaching career and that they will continue to build in experiences, strategies and skills. Learning how to teach never ends, for any of us."