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

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4.1 Sharing practice

Learning to interpret classrooms from the teacher’s perspective, and understanding the actions that lie behind what teachers do is the first – and most difficult – task that student teachers have to undertake. The teaching of an experienced teacher is often so fluent that it looks easy. Important decisions and processing of information about the pupils is hidden from the inexperienced observer. Observers only see what they understand and, in the early days of learning to teach, student teachers may have little understanding of the complexities of teaching.

Student teachers need a great deal of help when observing lesson, even when they are mature candidates with a wide range of other life and career experiences. The mentor has a key role in helping the student teacher to examine critically the strengths and weaknesses of lessons through carrying out an analysis of their own teaching: evaluating and sharing practice with their student teacher and modelling the process of critically reflecting on practice.

This process involves:

  • the student teacher observing the mentor
  • the mentor talking about what the student saw during the observation.

It is valuable for mentors to discuss both the strengths and weaknesses of their own practice, for several reasons:

  • being open about weaknesses in the lesson can help to establish a relationship based on mutual trust in which areas of practice are seen to be available for discussion and analysis
  • it shows the student teacher that things do go wrong in lessons, even for experienced practitioners, but that professional teachers will evaluate and adapt their planning in the light of that analysis
  • it reveals that experienced teachers continue to evaluate their own practice in order to improve it, emphasising that professional development is a commitment that runs throughout the teacher’s career
  • it provides the student teacher with a model of how the experienced teacher does that analysis.

The mentor, therefore, is seen as a role model for the student teacher, in their development of a self-evaluative and reflective approach to teaching.