Carnegie Education

Mentors Matter; unique challenges and opportunities for new teachers in an uncertain time.

In March 2020 the journal Professional Development in Education published a new research paper with the title ‘I would be a completely different teacher if I had been with a different mentor’: Ways in which educative mentoring matters as novices learn to teach’. 
Two students having a discussion

It was based on two-year US based study, by Lindsay Joseph Wexler, which followed student teachers from their training year into their first year as qualified teachers.  As the abstract states it reveals some of ‘what novices take up from their student-teaching mentors and take with them into their first-year teaching’. Mentoring and mentors make a difference, as our special issue of the CollectivED Working Papers ‘Mentors Matter’ also demonstrates.

This collection of papers is being published at an unprecedented time, with huge global interruption to our routines and education landscape caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. One significant concern is how the disruption impacts on those student teachers who are due to complete their placements in schools as the basis of their professional qualification.  In England as schools have closed their doors weeks before the Easter holiday training providers are in a period of limbo with assurances from the Department for Education that the statutory time on placement will be relaxed, but limited guidance on how the award of Qualified Teacher Status should be made.  There is a valid concern about the ‘pipeline’ of new teachers at a time with teacher recruitment and retention is already strained and because of the impact of shorter placements, especially for PGCE students. Traditional recruitment via interviews, school visits and trial lessons will necessarily be replaced by online interviews and some new teachers may feel more hesitant to find work at a distance from their support networks of family and friends during and following this public health crisis.  

Fortunately, ITTE providers are working hard to overcome the stress and disquiet for those awaiting qualification and are ensuring courses are completed with meaningful learning experiences and valid assessment opportunities. Many student and trainee teachers are also finding time to volunteer to support children, young people and families impacted by the changed circumstances, and developing new skill sets and relationships along the way.  However, if schools re-open in September, the start of the school year will feel quite different to normal with children and young people being back in formal education for the first time in six months. This will bring a wide range of challenges for all staff, children and parents, making it a uniquely unusual time to start teaching.

So, perhaps more than ever it is worth reflecting on why mentoring matters.  Unfortunately, mentoring relationships for many student teachers will have been interrupted, and while some will continue virtually it is understandable that attention and priorities may be elsewhere for both parties.  Where their ITTE mentoring will already have been most powerful is in its capacity to build a positive personal relationship between novice teachers and those with more experience. New teachers starting out in difficult times will be helped by recalling this, by revisiting the occasions when their mentors allowed them to test out their emerging identity as teachers and built their confidence through affirming their professional development and growth. Good mentors will have helped new teachers recognise that they should never feel isolated and to be assured that help can always be found in the profession.

The experience of Covid-19 will have given new teachers a unique understanding of the connections between school, family and community which will frame their professional perspectives, particularly with respect to more vulnerable individuals. As they grow into their own teaching roles there will come a time when they have opportunities to mentor others.  Today’s challenges, and those which can be foreseen for the return to school, will have become invaluable opportunities to gain insights which will help them frame teaching and learning in a positive and flexible way and to ground them in the significance of pedagogic and pastoral relationships. 

‘Mentors Matter’, the special issue of CollectivED working papers, explores some of the tensions, practices and opportunities presented by the co-existence of student and trainee teachers and early career teachers with their mentors.  Our contributors provide perspectives from research and practice and across a range of education phases and sectors. The significance of mentors for new teachers is evident through the papers, but so is the opportunity and value of mentoring teachers at all career stages.  

Read the CollectivED working paper ‘Mentors Matter’.




Professor Rachel Lofthouse

Professor / Carnegie School Of Education

Rachel Lofthouse is Professor of Teacher Education in the Carnegie School of Education. She has a specific research interest in professional learning, exploring how teachers learn and how they can be supported to put that learning into practice.

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