Mentoring trainee teachers is not only a challenge, but it is a true privilege. In this article, Emma Cate Stokes explains just why that is. 

The very nature of our job requires us to develop others. It is the bread and butter of teaching. We teach and develop young people on a daily basis. Alongside this, we develop ourselves from weekly staff meetings, courses, edubooks, conferences, teachmeets, NPQs and of course good old-fashioned Twitter debates.

Something that often gets overlooked when thinking about developing ourselves professionally is mentoring a trainee teacher. Typically, we think of the trainee’s development. Of course this is integral and should be the key priority, however, we do not always factor in the huge benefits mentoring can have on our own practice.

From early on in my teaching career I have worked with trainee teachers. I have been a mentor to both trainee teachers and Newly Qualified Teachers (now known as Early Career Teachers) For the past few years it has been an integral part of my working practice. I am currently a Professional Mentor overseeing the SCITT programme in my school. It is one of the most satisfying elements of my role. Here is why:

Rediscovering enthusiasm

The vast majority of us entered teaching because we wanted to provide young people with the best possible start in life through giving them quality education. However, there is always a danger when we’ve been teaching for an extended period of time that we begin to lose the wide-eyed enthusiasm that we started our teaching careers with. Mentoring a trainee teacher can change all that.

Trainees want to change the world and have the fierce determination to do so. Their positive energy can revitalise even the most jaded of teachers. With this unbridled enthusiasm comes fresh ideas and perspectives. Yes, some of those ideas may not always be successful but harnessing that energy and using it to motivate the class can have a significant impact on both pupils and mentors. Trainees bring a level of excitement to the table that is often contagious and reminds us why we entered teaching in the first place.

Building collaborative relationships

Building relationships is a key part of teaching. Not just with our pupils but also with our colleagues. Having those strong working relationships really is an integral aspect of our professional practice. The journey of mentor and trainee should be a shared one that encompasses collaboration and learning. We want to get the very best out of our trainees and ourselves. A strong relationship will help facilitate this. There is something very special about watching a trainee teacher grow professionally and knowing you have been part of their journey.

There are two important components to a good mentor/trainee relationship. These are congenial relationships and collegial relationships. Whilst the congenial relationship focuses on the more personal aspects in terms of feeling part of a team, the collegial element of the relationship is centred upon professional interactions. It is discussing teaching practice, the sharing of knowledge and promoting success of both parties.

Ultimately, the mentor/trainee relationships can last a lifetime. I am still in contact with the majority of the trainees I have mentored and it has been a joy seeing them establish themselves in the world of teaching and knowing I had a small part to play in it.

Giving up control

This is one that many mentors can initially find hard! During my first year as a mentor I was working with an excellent trainee but I found it difficult to share my classroom. Don’t get me wrong, I loved so many aspects of the mentor experience but giving up classroom control was a learning experience for me.

Up until that point everything had been done my way. The classroom was set up just how I liked it, I had my routines, and my way of doing things. However, I quickly realised that in order for the trainee I was working with to succeed I had to share the class with them, rather than see myself as the one solely in charge. This was challenging to begin with but it allowed me to grow in ways I wouldn’t have considered.

Giving a new teacher the space to experiment with new strategies allowed them to develop and also gave me the chance to see different techniques in action – some successful, some not. Of course some things didn’t work. What is important to bear in mind when this happens is that they are still a novice at this stage and need to be given the chance to develop their practice.

What was particularly powerful was reflecting on these experiments together; refining and changing. This provided the opportunity for rich professional dialogue and forced me to reflect on my own practice.

Being reflective

Having a trainee requires you to think more deeply about your own practice. A good trainee will always have lots of questions. Though they can sometimes be overwhelming, particularly when you have a million plates spinning on an average day, they do force a certain amount of contemplation for us as mentors.

How do you assess effectively in the middle of a class input? What does a good seating plan look like? How do you get the class to line up so quietly? Often, trainees will ask questions about things that are second nature to experienced teachers. For us, assessing children during a class input is almost like muscle memory. It is part and parcel of our daily routine. Sharing your thinking with a trainee requires you as the mentor to think more deeply about what you do on a daily basis.

This reflection in some cases can be transformative. It forces us to reflect on the choices we make, the strengths and areas for development and reminds us that we too are still developing.

Giving back

Something I love about the role of mentor is it gives us a chance to give back to the teaching community. I am passionate about teaching being one of the very best jobs in the world. We are entrusted with something incredibly precious – the learning of the future generations.

If we want to ensure they are getting the very best teaching we need to make sure we are providing them with the best possible teachers. I see being a mentor as one way of playing my part in this. I won’t lie, working with a trainee can increase workload but the benefits more than make up for it.

We are able to share with trainees our knowledge, skills and expertise to help shape their teaching practice and it is a true privilege to be entrusted with this task.

Author

Emma Cate Stokes is a KS1 teacher and Phase Lead at a coastal school East Sussex.

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