Tips for mentoring preservice teachers

Having posted 7 tips for preservice teachers, I thought I would turn my attention to the supervising teacher.  Most of what I will say here comes from the great work that four teachers did with me when I was a preservice teacher. Other things I will say come from my own, limited, experience as a supervisor.
My four supervisors, to whom I am very grateful, gave me two things: freedom and support. 

Preservice teachers are in the process of learning many, and sometimes contradictory, theories. They need some leeway to put some of these theories into practice. This is the only way they are going to find out for themselves "what works". It is also the only way for them to find their strengths and weaknesses.

On my teaching rounds, my supervisors let me try my hand at outdoor lessons, group work and good old "chalk and talk". I learned that one of my strengths was developing worksheets. I would not have guessed that as in a previous life I hated documentation. 

Giving those we're mentoring freedom does not mean leaving them to figure everything out for themselves. We know the school environment and the particular class better. We need to start them off with some ideas and resources. We need to allocate them time to talk over their plans and give them feedback on how they went. 

It is ideal if the preservice teacher could take control of a unit of work from beginning to end. I maintain a "unit plan" document online so that my student-teacher and I can update it. Mostly, she updates it and I add notes to it.
Feedback is what we all need and crave. Try to be direct and specific. The following issues often come up:
  • How to start a lesson and set expectations;
  • Projecting the voice and addressing students directly so they will listen;
  • How to deal with off-task behaviour; and
  • How to wrap up a lesson. 
Regular follow up
The preservice teacher you're mentoring needs some of your time to set goals for the next few lessons. Concentrate on one or two things at a time. For instance, say, "For the next two lessons, I want you to begin each lesson by outlining the activities you expect the students to complete and how they relate to what they have done before."

Mentoring others is a great opportunity for professional learning. It forces us to examine our own practice as we look to advise others on theirs. It is also a contribution we make to our profession. 

When supervising a preservice teacher, I assume that s/he will work alongside me one day.

If you have some tips on mentoring preservice teachers or, more generally, inducting others into your profession, please drop me a comment.


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