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Learning to teach: mentoring and tutoring student teachers
Learning to teach: mentoring and tutoring student teachers

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1 What is the difference?

The roles of mentor and tutor vary between courses, national systems and school contexts. For the purposes of this course, the term ‘mentor’ is used to indicate the person (usually a member of the school staff) who works with the beginner teacher on a daily basis in the school context supporting their development while on placement.

The role of ‘tutor’ may include providing academic support, if the student is studying for an academic qualification, and visiting the school to observe teaching in order to moderate and coordinate grading with the school mentor. It may also involve leading tutorials or seminars that help students to link theory and practice. The tutor is unlikely to be from within the immediate school context (i.e. from the same department) and may be from a Higher Education Institution, external teacher education provider or from a different school within an alliance of schools.

Tip: It is strongly advised that whatever your role within ITE, you read both the sections about mentoring and tutoring as inevitably the two roles have much overlap, and in different contexts may have different remits.

Fundamental to the success of Initial Teacher Education is the collaboration and coordination of these two roles in providing a coherent experience for the beginner teacher. However, the distinct nature of the two roles and what they bring to the student teacher, require separate consideration. To help do this, it is useful to keep in mind the student experience.

Maldrez et al. (2007), through their large sample of student teachers, identified four key themes that underpin the process of learning to be a teacher:

  1. the concept of teacher identity or sense of self as teacher
  2. the importance of potential and actual relationships with a number of ‘significant others’
  3. the role of emotion in student teachers’ reasons for becoming a teacher and (more strongly) in their accounts of their early experiences in schools
  4. student teachers’ concerns about the relevance of ITP (Individual Training Plan) course provision.

Mentors and tutors both have a role in supporting student teachers in these aspects, but in sometimes quite different ways, as we will begin to explore throughout this course.