Mentoring Pre-Service Teachers: Why It’s Important

This year I decided to take on the responsibility of mentoring pre-service teachers for the first time. I’d thought for a long time that this is something I would like to do as a result of my own early teaching experience.

During my pracs I was placed in two fabulous schools. The children sat and behaved, completed their work and participated in classroom activities. All in all it was a fantastic prac to learn that a) I new my content and b) that I could teach it. Awesome! I’m going to be a fabulous teacher.

Or so I thought.

When I landed in my current school for the first time it was a “baptism of fire” to borrow a phrase from my current prac student.

Most of the student’s did not like school and were not interested in learning. My ideas of changing lives and imparting amazing wisdom was seriously tested as I attempted to survive each day using some of the strategies I’d learnt in my behaviour management lecture. Yes, the one lecture I’d actually had.

It was a difficult time. I wasn’t sure if I could continue being a teacher anymore. Some days it all just felt too hard. I often thought about my prac days and thought “would I still have been a teacher if I’d known this then?”

I often felt like I hadn’t utilised my prac enough to get resources either as I came into my school with virtually nothing that could help me with my teaching. It was a real struggle in those first few years to effectively develop programs and resources and feel like I could manage a class without it falling apart.

It was during this time that I really felt I needed to make sure the anxieties I experienced as a pre-service teacher were eased slightly for other pre-service teachers so that a) pre-service teachers were adequately resourced and b) they had some idea of the range of  abilities and expectations of students.

Now, looking through the teaching lens with different glasses on I can see that my school has a fabulous range of student’s and abilities which is perfect for pre-service teachers needing to get a taste of the whole gamut of potential classes they may face in their first year. It doesn’t necessarily mean the first year will be any easier but there is a little more awareness of the potentially difficult classes and behaviours teachers will face.

To me it is so very important that they see potentially how difficult some classes can be and the range of reasons for this but also how great some classes can be and to appreciate how refreshing this is.

Here are 5 things I’ve learnt are important whenn mentoring pre-service teachers:

1. Read Their Lesson Plans – Yes, their uni is making them write them but many of them are also committing a stack of time to getting them “just right”. I also believe they are so vitally important. Mostly, however, out of respect for the student, spend a significant amount of time the day before each lesson is to be taught going through each step of the lesson to make sure the sequence is effective as well as the timing. You know the student’s better than they do so you need to be active in your suggestion of better teaching and learning strategies if you think the class is going to need it.

2. Don’t Interrupt the Lesson – Unless the class is running completely riot try your very best to refrain from stepping in when handling management situations. It is important that the pre-service teacher gets practice on managing this.

3. Ask Them to Give Feedback on Their Lesson First – Often I think pre-service teachers are waiting for a barrage of negative criticism from their mentor teacher. I think it’s better to hear the pro’s and con’s from them first because often they will address most of what you’re thinking anyway and at least this way they are being self-reflective. Use what they have said to support any feedback you’re going to give them.

4. Choose Focus Areas of Pedagogy –Often pre-service teachers are so focused on getting through the content that they forget that their prac is also about learning the finer points of teaching pedagogy such as behaviour management, questioning technique and trialling different teaching and learning strategies and group structures. To ensure you can effectively assess the pre-service teacher in all areas of their practicum make sure you focus on a different aspect of their feedback form at least once throughout the course of their practical block. Many universities are now basing their feedback form on the NSW Institute of Teacher’s Teaching Standards.

5. Be Positive About the Teaching Profession – The pre-service teacher is going to have good days and bad days. It is important that you remain positive and upbeat about the need to keep persevering when things get tough and to seek support when they are stuck.

I believe mentoring is important because essentially these student’s are the future of education and teaching. They are the future of Arts Education more importantly. As such, it is important that we instill in them quality teaching practices with integrity and passion for our subject. A generosity of your time dedicated to them now, will serve all our student’s in the long-term.

All, in all, mentoring has been a fantastically rewarding, self-reflective experience that I encourage all teacher’s to try at some point in their careers.

I also did a bit of a surf around and found a really great set of videos on Pre-Service Teacher Mentoring from the Queensland University of Technology. They can be viewed here.

Have you been a mentor for a pre-service teacher? What was your experience like and what advice can you offer for other mentors?

Image Credits: Apple Planet, leoncillo sabino, Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

3 Comments

  1. I agree that working with pre-service teachers is a great idea–but I have found that in drama, because they lack all the practical experience with students, pre-service teachers often do not comprehend the power of the activities and strategies. Their reflections on arts-integrated teaching strategies and drama methods are not as deep and dedicated as those of practicing teachers. I have found them to be less willing to venture into the active learning that drama promotes and less convinced of its value for students. I wonder if you have had similar experiences?

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