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

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Learning to teach: mentoring and tutoring student teachers

2 Mentor role

The mentor has a crucial role in Initial Teacher Education. Essentially, the mentor’s responsibilities for a student teacher are to:

  • act as a positive role model
  • enthuse the student teacher about their subject and subject pedagogy so that student teachers, in turn, will contribute to enthusing pupils of all abilities, aptitudes and backgrounds to want to learn, enjoy and achieve
  • help the student teacher to understand something about the context of the school and how this affects practice
  • help the student teacher to develop in a planned way using an appropriate balance of support and challenge determined by the student teacher’s progress
  • be familiar with the aims and expectations of the ITE curriculum
  • understand how to assess the student teacher’s progress and be able to do this accurately
  • set the student teacher SMART targets in relation to the ITE professional standards/competencies and the course requirements
  • facilitate the student teacher’s links with colleagues and professional development opportunities beyond the student teacher’s subject area.

Activity 1: Characteristics of an effective mentor

Timing: Time: 10 minutes

Listen to the audio below and note down the key characteristics of an effective mentor, as described by the teachers and student teachers. Do you agree with their views? Would you add anything to your list?

Download this audio clip.Audio player: pgce_1_audio.mp3
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Ann Shelton Mayes (Academic consultant):
We interviewed people who have recently been through the mentoring experience and asked them to describe the mentor role.
Katharine Burn (Mentor):
It’s quite a complex role in that it embodies lots of different things. I mean you’re essentially responsible for the school-based training of the student teacher so that at one level it has kind of management aspects that you’re planning a timetable for them, working out sort of what proportion of lessons for them to be involved with, how much time they’ll spend working with you and working with colleagues. So there’s a kind of organisation element. There’s … there’s a pastoral element in kind of the concern and the support that you need to offer to the student teacher, and learning to teach them, many people can be very stressful and quite traumatic. But essentially it’s … it’s being there to provide the training that they need in schools.
Ann Shelton Mayes (Academic consultant):
Katharine Burn, from the Cherwell School in Oxford.
So mentoring is a complex activity which ranges from the organisational to the pastoral but is fundamentally about training. But what kinds of skills do mentors require to carry out that role? Geoff Rhodes is in charge of mentor training at Larkmead School in Abingdon.
Geoff Rhodes (Mentor):
The need to have quite a lot of different skills. They clearly have to be efficient and have to be able to organize experiences, so that students in school can make progress because there are successful plans laid for them that they can work with and can learn. But they also have to be very good at working with people. They have to be very good at working with students. They need to be welcoming, they need to be warm, they need to be accepting of people, and they certainly need to give students the feeling that students can make mistakes, that they won’t be damned for them, that they’ll be helped to … to make progress. But students really need to have great trust in their mentors and I think that’s really a very important quality that really can’t be ignored.
Ann Shelton Mayes (Academic consultant):
So students need to trust their mentors. But what do students themselves think? What’s a good mentor to them? I put this question to Daniel Park.
Daniel Park (Student teacher):
Someone who’s prepared to give you the space that you need to get used to being a teacher, to being an independent teacher, but at the same time someone who is always prepared to give you the new ideas or the direction that you might be lacking to help you out with your organisation of lessons and always to give good feedback. I respond well to positive criticism rather than negative criticism and to be encouraged is always very … er … helpful.
Ann Shelton Mayes (Academic consultant):
So what type of skills do mentors need to be effective?
Daniel Park (Student teacher):
One of the key skills they’ll need is to be organized themselves so that they can fit in the time necessary to train a teacher as well as all the duties that they have themselves.
Ann Shelton Mayes (Academic consultant):
Daniel Park. Certainly a mentor has to be well organized to do the job in the first place. But personal qualities like approachability, objectivity and listening skills were also mentioned by most of our student teachers – in fact, they found them more important than anything else.
Nicky Poole (Student teacher):
I think first and foremost they need to be very approachable. They need to be there for you and to make you feel that you can go to them with any problems, any help, whenever you need it. You really want to feel that they’re happy to give you their time whenever you need it and I think also they need to be objective. I think it’s very easy for people to sit at the back of the classroom and have too many of their own thoughts about the way they teach and put those onto the way they think you should teach and I don’t really think that’s the right way of doing it. They should sit there, as impartial as they can, not make a judgement with respect to how they do it, but purely look at how you do it and talk about your skills and what you’re good at and not good at. They need to be objective.
Ann Shelton Mayes (Academic consultant):
Nicky Poole. And Rob Hynes.
Rob Hynes (Student teacher):
I think it’s very important for them to be able to listen. They need to be able to hear what a student teacher needs, to know what their problems are, what their difficulties are, especially as many mentors are quite experienced teachers, they’ve perhaps lost touch a bit with what it’s like to be a new teacher, what it’s like to be a student. So they need to be able to listen to what a student is saying, listen to what their problems are, even though their problems may be things that they left behind a long time ago, and have almost forgotten what it’s like to have problems with. So they need to be able to listen to you. They need to be able to know what the priorities of the new teacher are. I found that the first worry when you go into a school is discipline, so perhaps they need to be able to see things like discipline and know what the problems are that new teachers have, and be able to deal with them begin with.
Ann Shelton Mayes (Academic consultant):
So mentors should try to put themselves in the place of the student teacher, remember what it was like when they started, and see any problems from the student’s point of view. A final comment from Elin Williams.
Elin Williams (Student teacher):
My mentor’s looking after me and one other person and we were very different and I think he had to adapt himself to both of our needs really. So that I would have though that was the most important thing. They need to be very good at listening as well because sometimes it’s … it’s just like going to be a counsellor, you end up pouring your heart out about things that went wrong. So sometimes that … in fact that’s all you need is someone to listen to you rather than tell you what you did wrong because you’re really fairly aware of it.
End transcript
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Despite the mentoring model being commonly used in schools involved with Initial Teacher Education, Maldrez et al. (2007) found considerable variation in mentors’ understanding of their role which we will now go on to explore in more depth.


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