Looking at the Process of Mentoring for Beginning Teachers
The national trend in the United States is to provide
first-year teachers with mentors. This is especially true with first-year teachers in the
Alternative Certification Program (ACP). On-the-job nurturing and support by mentors can
accelerate success and effectiveness among beginning teachers as well as prevent some of
them from dropping out of the teaching profession. Because of its importance,
campus/district administrators and university educators need to examine the elements of a
successful mentoring program. Elements include the development of a viable relationship
between beginning teacher and mentor, the assignment of a mentor who possesses specific
knowledge and skills, and the use of an accountability system. Mentoring programs may wish
to adopt the support team approach to the mentoring process, providing opportunities for
beginning teachers to work with a group of individuals instead of one person.
The growing national trend in the United States is to provide
first-year teachers with professional assistance and advice through mentoring (American
Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, 1995). Alternative Certification Programs
(ACPs) require first-year teachers to have experienced mentors. Thomsen and Gustafson
(1997) points out that an effective mentoring experience leads to beginning teachers
increased satisfaction and competence in teaching, consequently, professional growth of
mentored teachers outpaces non-mentored ones (Spuhler & Zetler, 1994). This, in turn,
increases the retention level of new teachers. Before selecting mentors for first-year
teachers, the principal and/or selection committee should first look at the process of
mentoring. The mentoring process includes the relationship of beginning teacher and
mentor, the necessary knowledge and skills of mentors, and an accountability system to
A meaningful relationship between the teacher-mentor and the beginning teacher establishes an effective mentoring experience since the relationship mediates the experiential exchange (Covey, 1997; Hawkey, 1997). Compatibility between the two teachers is based on the interpersonal interactions that occur during the mentoring process (Cline & Necochea, 1997). If the personal exchanges between mentor and protégé illicit understanding, caring, and trust then credibility occurs.
The mentor and protégés understanding of each others roles and expectations is essential in establishing a basis for compatibility. While mentors tend to have their own ideas about mentoring because of previous experiences, the novice teacher may be uncertain about the mentoring process. Differences in expectations and viewpoints could result in stress and a dysfunctional relationship between mentor and novice teacher (Hawkey, 1997; Nelson & Quick, 1997).
The principal and/or selection committee could address roles and expectations with prospective mentors in two ways. First, the committee could provide prospective mentors with specific information about the mentoring position. This would include a job description outlining job responsibilities, expected working arrangements, continuing education expectations (e.g., technology skills), types of organizational support/resources, and an accountability system. Secondly, in the application process, the committee could ask prospective mentors to discuss in letter format their views and approaches to mentoring. This discussion would include prospective mentors needs, e.g., time, in carrying out the mentoring role. For example, the prospective mentor could ask if a substitute teacher would be available to handle the mentors classroom responsibilities when the mentor is conducting an observation of the first-year teachers classroom instruction and vice-versa.
To ascertain their prospective, the committee could also ask first-year teachers to write down their expectations of the mentoring program. Once completed, committee members and first-year teachers would discuss these expectations in light of the mentoring programs format. Moreover, the search committee should also provide opportunities for the beginning teacher and prospective mentor to talk with one another about their background experiences and expectations of the mentoring process. These conversations may reveal evidence to determine whether a basis for a meaningful relationship exists.
Additional approaches can be pursued to establish a basis for a
successful relationship between mentor and protégé. First, it may be valuable to have a
selection committee comprised of individuals (e.g., principal, experienced mentors, and
university faculty) familiar with the backgrounds of prospective mentors and first-year
teachers to determine a perceived match of management styles and social interactions
(Cline & Necochea, 1997). Also, the principal and/or committee should look at the
natural selection approach in designating mentors for beginning teachers (Hadden, 1997).
This occurs when an experienced teacher and a first-year one spontaneously begin working
with one another forming a natural mentor and protégé relationship. Lastly, the
principal and/or committee may wish to choose prospective mentors who are adaptive to role
assignments and responsive to learning. Researchers have pointed out that
relationships can be established or enriched by learning or encouraging
mentor-like behavior rather than by selecting certain types of people
(Papalewis, Jordan, Cuellar, Gaulden, & Smith; 1991, p. 6).
The principal and/or search committee should outline a list of required knowledge and skills mentors should possess to assist beginning teachers needs. The following knowledge/abilities, while not an exhaustive list, can assist teacher-mentors in carrying out their assigned roles, e.g., model, guide, confidant. The acquisition of this information may require mentors to attend a professional development program. Mentors should view this continuing education both as preparation for their mentoring/supervisory role and as an opportunity to participate in lifelong learning (Kajs, Willman, & Alaniz, 1998).
First, mentors should be knowledgeable of the beginning teachers needs as they progress developmentally as a professional. Berliner (1988) points out that teachers progress through five stages of development: novice, advanced beginner, competent teacher, proficient teacher, and expert. Mentors are expected to adjust their mentoring roles (e.g., confidant, counselor, and guide) to meet protégés needs as they move through these stages (Crewson and Fisher, 1997). Effective mentors help first-year teachers deal with the personal issues that arise so beginning teachers can focus their attention on the matter of teaching (Spuhler & Zetler, 1994).
Secondly, mentors, as well as first-year teachers, should possess good interpersonal skills. The first year of teaching tends to be more of an affective experience rather than a cognitive one. In the mentor/beginning teacher relationship, mentors spend much of their time listening, counseling, guiding, supporting, and showing confidence in the novice teachers ability (Cordeira & Smith-Sloan, 1995; Covey, 1997; Furlong, 1997; Gilstrap & Beattie, 1996). While mentors provide support and understanding, they must also challenge first-year teachers to use their talents to strive for excellence in their teaching (Hawkey, 1997). Moreover, mentors should challenge beginning teachers to be change agents, transforming schools instead of maintaining their status quo (Cline & Necochea, 1997).
Thirdly, knowledge of adult education principles is extremely valuable. While teachers are formally prepared in the pedagogical implications of young and adolescent students, they may not have received strategies to work with adults. Adults need learning experiences " that are self-directed, problem-centered, experiential, and role-related. Guiding students to engage in problem finding, not just problem solving " (Weise, 1992, p. 22). Fourthly, first-year teachers need modeling and guidance in becoming more self-reflective. Reflective thinking allows teachers to analyze their pedagogical methods to improve their teaching performance (Schon, 1987). This is especially important since teachers tend to focus more on doing than thinking (Hawkey, 1997).
A recent study asked principals what abilities did classroom teachers
need (Roden and Cardina, 1996). The results indicated five key areas. Classroom teachers
must be able to (a) engage students in critical thinking, (b) develop students
interpersonal abilities, (c) guide students in resolving conflicts in a respectful manner,
(d) incorporate effective computer usage in pedagogy, and (e) implement appropriate
alternative assessment techniques (Getty & Holt, 1993; Roden and Cardina, 1996). Grove
(1992) also believes that teachers should be able to participate in collaborative inquiry
to develop ways to improve classroom instruction. Mentors need proficiency in all these
areas in order to model for and guide teachers during their induction year.
The principal and/or selection committee should establish an
accountability system with procedures to ensure regular meetings and observations between
mentors and beginning teachers. During these sessions, assessment of classroom teaching,
constructive feedback and sharing, and modeling of sound pedagogical techniques would
occur. This accountability process could take the form of ongoing, standardized, written
reports or e-mails by both the mentor and the first-year teacher submitted to a designated
person. Designated people could include the principal, an assigned campus/district
coordinator, or a college/university faculty member. These materials could be placed in a
professional portfolio to display teacher development and growth. In addition,
face-to-face meetings between participants and campus, district and university
participants would be valuable for accountability purposes. Reliance on a system of
self-monitoring by mentors could result in laxness or even negligence of responsibility.
Moreover, regular reports by mentors and beginning teachers provide opportunities to
initiate self-reflection and dialogue with support group members (e.g., principal, other
mentors, and university faculty).
Prior to mentor selection, the principal and/or selection committee should review the components of a mentoring process, allowing these elements to serve as a basis for mentor selection. The process includes looking at the compatibility of the relationship between beginning teachers and mentors, discussing their expectations and roles, outlining the necessary knowledge and skills of mentors, and establishing an accountability system. A good fit between the mentor and beginning teacher will provide both parties a rewarding experience, in turn, strengthen their commitment to the teaching field. A successful teaching experience can also increase the retention level of first-year teachers, and, hopefully, encourage good teachers to remain at the same campus, lowering its turnover rate. A well-organized professional development program can effectively prepare mentors in their mentoring/supervisory role as well as meet their lifelong learning goals.
In conjunction with the mentoring process, the principal and/or selection committee could establish a support team that includes the mentor as a key member. This group, consisting of teachers and administrators, would bring a storehouse of knowledge and experience to address beginning teachers content and pedagogical concerns. Team members would consist of educational generalists and specialists in subject areas and skills development. This team could more readily provide the necessary information and feedback that a novice teacher may require. Also, it could reduce or eliminate a mentors feeling of inadequacy in striving to fulfill the various needs of a first-year teacher. For instance, Houston, Marshall, and McDavid (1990) found mentors unprepared to counsel beginning teachers who wanted to discuss their financial problems.
The support team approach could provide assurance to teacher-mentors
that school administrators support the mentoring process (Ganser, 1995). It could provide
a forum for mentors to discuss their professional responsibilities and receive
constructive feedback. For instance, mentors could address their frustrations as well as
their satisfactions in serving both as a classroom teacher and a mentor. The support group
could demonstrate a teamwork approach, allowing campus and district administrators and
university faculty to participate in the professional development of beginning teachers.
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Lawrence T. Kajs received his Ed.D. in Administration, Planning, and Social Policy from Harvard University in 1988. Prior to his Houston assignment, he was on the faculty at Texas A&M International University in Laredo, Texas. Dr. Kajs is currently an Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership at the University of Houston-Clear Lake in Houston, Texas. He teaches graduate courses in school law, management theory, and school personnel. He is cofounder of the Center for Excellence in Mentoring (CEM) at the University of Houston-Clear Lake.
Ramon Alaniz received his Ed.D. in Bilingual Education from Texas A&M University at Kingsville (formerly Texas A&I University) He is a Professor of Bilingual Education in the College of Education at Texas A&M International University in Laredo, Texas. He is a former President of the National Association of Alternative Certification.
Edward Willman received his Ph.D. from the University of North Texas. He serves as an Associate Professor of Statistics and Director of Academic Computing at Texas A&M International University in Laredo, Texas. He has worked extensively in the preparation of teachers and mentors, especially in the area of technology, collaborating with education faculty.
College of Business
Joan N. Maier received her Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from Illinois State University. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Houston-Clear Lake in Houston, Texas. Her area of specialization is geography education.
Pamelia E. Brott received her Ph.D. in Counseling and Counselor Education from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She is currently an Assistant Professor in the Counseling Program at the University of Houston-Clear Lake in Houston, Texas. Her areas of interest and research include professional identity development, narrative career counseling, and the process of counselor development in the training process.
Counseling Program, Box 35