Mentoring is a popular form of teacher education involving a formal program of training by highly experienced teachers for new teachers, or teachers seeking professional renewal. Although examples of informal mentoring among teachers can be found in literature, systematically organized and often state-mandated programs of formal teacher mentoring have only become widespread since the 1970s. While differing widely in content and duration, most teacher mentoring programs are designed to offer feedback about instructional delivery in a non-judgmental manner in order to catalyze enhanced teacher effectiveness in helping students achieve academically.
Keywords Community Orientation; Confidentiality; Curricular Differentiation; Exit Strategy; Generativity; High-Potential Mentorship; Induction; Mentoring Culture; Mentoring Stance; Non-Judgmental Feedback; Professional Community; Reflective Practitioner; Self-Assessment
Teacher Education: Mentoring
Although numerous educational articles begin by citing the earliest use of the term "mentor" in Homer's Odyssey, the authors of these articles often mistake what Homer actually wrote about the character Mentor. Before setting forth from his household in order to fight in the Trojan Wars, Odysseus did instruct his old friend Mentor to protect his wife and son and keep everything intact while he was gone, supporting the notion that Mentor was a trusted advisor and a wise friend. Unfortunately, Mentor fails miserably in protecting the household of Odysseus. The goddess Athena, daughter of Zeus, the head of the Greek divine pantheon, disguised herself as Mentor and kept domestic affairs solvent until the return of Odysseus a decade later.
As the story suggests, mentoring entails a relationship bound by trust between two individuals in which one, rightly or wrongly, trusts highly in the other's competency to achieve an objective. Additionally, the Homeric tale proposes that mentoring involves a fusion of different identities and characteristics: masculine and feminine, direct and indirect intervention, planned intention and spontaneous inspiration.
The Homeric interpretation of "mentor" suggests that mentoring does not uniformly bring about the desired objective. This is particularly important in considering the various contemporary views of teacher mentoring, since some advocates of mentoring claim that it will surely reduce teacher attrition and raise instructional standards. A number of educational researchers strongly dispute these claims, pointing to new teachers rejecting assigned mentors in favor of utilizing family or friends outside the teaching profession in a mentoring role (Lindgren, 2005).
To define teacher mentoring as it has been commonly used in educational systems in North America, Europe, and Australia since the 1970s, the following general definition can serve. Teacher mentoring is a formal process of helping a new teacher, or a teacher seeking professional renewal, through an intense dialogue with a highly evaluated, widely experienced educator. The object of such dialogue is to assist the mentee in establishing realistic performance benchmarks for teaching and to feel intellectually and psychologically connected to a fellow educator "as a guide, a supporter, a friend, an advocate, and a role model" (Pitton, 2006).
Although rarely mentioned in Western educational literature, such a dialogue has occasionally also occurred in which the mentee unintentionally educates the mentor. This kind of sudden reversal mentoring is commonly found in both folkloric and educational literature of the non-Western world. The following narrative is used in the instruction of Buddhist clergy in Asia today:
Our schoolmaster used to take a nap every afternoon," related a disciple of Soyen Shaku. "We children asked him why he did it and he told us: 'I go to dreamland to meet the old sages just as Confucius did.' When Confucius slept, he would dream of ancient sages and later tell his followers about them. "It was extremely hot one day so some of us took a nap. Our schoolmaster scolded us. 'We went to dreamland to meet the ancient sages the same as Confucius did,' we explained. 'What was the message from the sages?' our schoolmaster demanded. One of us replied: 'We went to dreamland and met the sages and asked them if our schoolmaster came there every afternoon, but they said they had never seen any such fellow' (Reps & Senzaki, 1957).
As this teaching story indicates, many Asian models of mentoring easily embrace principles of paradox, ambiguity and contradiction. These qualities are not strangers in classrooms anywhere - yet mentoring in North American and European schools foreground teaching as a highly logical, progressively linear, and direct process; an abstract ideal far removed from real classrooms saturated with students who might both wish - and not wish-- to learn, and teachers who are flummoxed about how to address this disinterest.
Increasingly, teacher mentoring has also come to imply a mentee's systematic entry into understanding and participation in school culture and in the community beyond the school. This has been a consequence of realizing that "learning communities" (networks of individuals who are knowledge resources for teachers) exist plentifully beyond as well as within school campuses and might supply valuable classroom visitors for students and teachers alike. Included in this population are retired teachers who might have the time and interest to mentor active teachers, and who belong to national organizations like AARP's Educator Community, formerly identified as the National Retired Teachers Association.
The parameters of the term "teacher mentoring" have expanded into the realm formerly demarcated by the term induction. Induction once was sharply defined in educational literature as referring to a broad spectrum of activities geared to novice teachers that included one-to-one mentoring and community orientation, but additionally encompassed peer study groups, team planning and teaching, and telementoring, mentoring through videoconferencing and Internet communication. (Strong, 2005). In the 21st century, the term induction, in the educational literature, is often replaced by mentoring.
The Mentoring Stance
The term mentoring stance is utilized to refer to a style of mentoring: coaching, collaboration, or consulting (Lipton, 2003).
• Coaching implies a one-to-one working relationship with one teacher, the mentor, defined as possessing more professional and/or intellectual authority than the mentee.
• Collaboration implies a working relationship of equals professionally.
• Consulting implies that the mentor has a status outside of the department or school when the mentee is employed.
Each of these mentoring styles has pluses and minuses, with the coaching style the most dominant worldwide.
Another term refining the general notion of mentoring is mentoring culture. A mentoring culture is created by school leaders at the grade-level, departmental level, and cross-disciplinary team level who supervise and evaluate the professional growth of new teachers or experienced teachers needing a rebirth of dedication and focus (Campbell & Brummett, 2007). A mentoring culture is an environment enhancing daily the possibility of professional growth through discussion of classroom practice. Within a mentoring culture, teachers needing guidance in dealing with complex challenges like curricular differentiation - how standardized curriculum can be tailored to meet the differing learning styles of students - can learn from teachers who have been through that challenge over the years and have developed tools of the trade to address it. In the 21st century in U.S. schools, the largest concern with mentoring cultures may be connected to the intensification of pressures for students to pass standardized subject-area tests under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB).
Benefits of Mentoring
Any style or schedule of mentoring takes a teacher's many daily frustrations as prima material, raw material to transmute into useful knowledge. However contested the theory that new teachers drop out of the profession at the astonishing rate they do in the U.S. due to the lack of systematically efficacious mentoring, there is general agreement that teaching is a high-stress occupation. Mentoring allows new or highly frustrated experienced teachers to have someone to discuss these constant occupational tensions, and that seems to suggest a therapeutic advantage over the experience of an educator having to...
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