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Mentoring the Trainee Teacher - A Supervisor's Defining of the Role

by Richard D Boyce

posted in Reference and Education

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I always looked forward to being asked to supervise trainee teachers during my teaching career. This was because it forced me to look at my teaching. With the constant pressure of the job, I, like many others in the profession, sometimes went back to the old chalk and talk types lessons far too often. The arrival of the trainee teacher reminded me of all the different pedagogue/teaching strategies I could use to stimulate my students' learning.
So I would look at ways in which I could show the trainee a variety of teaching strategies that increased interest in my students. Their arrival also meant I would endeavour to teach the "perfect" lessons to inspire them and my students.
In doing this I was trying to create an image of how a teacher works in a professional way. As well I would endeavour to give the trainee a wide experience of school life, not just in the classroom but in the staff room and in the playground.
I always provided more opportunities to experience teaching than was mandated by the university education faculty.
During the trainee's teaching practice, I would ask myself these four questions about the trainee. (This will only come about if I find the trainee is remiss in his/her preparation and loathe doing more than is mandated by the certifying authority).
1. Was teaching the right career for this trainee?
2. Would I want this trainee teaching my own children?
3. Would I like the trainee teaching in the classroom next to me next year?
4. Would I like this trainee teaching my high school class in the lesson before they come to my lesson?
5. Was the trainee prepared to try all the extras I would provide for him/her?
If I felt unhappy about any of these issues, then I felt the trainee was at risk. I would speak to the other supervising teacher to gain his/her opinion. Then, if the other supervising teacher had the same concern, I would inform the school trainee teacher supervisor and the university supervisor of my concern and ask that they look for ways to help the trainee improve or look for another career. This may seem harsh but teaching is a very stressful career and our children deserve the best teachers we can train.
Once I had demonstrated a particular teaching strategy, I would allow the trainee to try that strategy. This would happen several times during the early weeks of the teaching practice. Once the trainee had a series of lessons under his/her belt, I would give him/her an entire unit to plan and teach over several lessons. This meant that they would work out a testing program for that unit to be given at the end of the teaching of that unit. The trainee would mark the assessment instrument, return it to the students, review it with the students and do any necessary re-teaching of the unit.
After each lesson, I would discuss how it went. I would ask the trainee for a personal critique of their lesson. Then we would decide on what he/she had to work on improving during the next lesson. It might be questioning or the use of his/her voice or the board work.
Occasionally, I would ask the trainee if there was some particular skill he/she would like me to observe and critique.
Often there would be students in the class who had missed work. I would have the trainee take small groups of these students to do catch up work with them. As well, I would give them time, in small groups, with the more able students doing problem solving activities while the rest of the class worked on consolidating the present topic.
I would always check and sign their written lesson plan and write comments on that lesson plan at the end of the lesson. I would enlarge on these comments verbally with the trainee to make sure they understood what I was saying.
Towards the end of their teaching practice, I would do two things. Firstly, I would ask the trainee if there was a particular teaching pedagogue/strategy that he/she wanted to try. Secondly, when a lesson with the trainee was underway, I would walk out of the room to give them the chance to teach without me looking over their shoulder. It gave them the opportunity to see how the students reacted to their teaching without my presence. I was always close enough to hear what was going on in the class room in case I had to intervene.
I would always be prepared to intervene in a lesson to add extra information to help the trainee or to clarify a point being made or to add to the answer of a question given by the trainee in a way that implied that we were in team teaching mode. In the area of discipline, I would often walk around the room and stand beside a student who was not on task to give them a silent message that I was not happy with their attitude to the lesson and the trainee.
I tried to instil in my students that it was an advantage to them to have two teachers in the class room. It gave them two resources to offer help.
Finally, I, as head of department, was able to send my trainees to other teachers to observe some special technique these teachers employed in their class room. This also included suggesting the trainee teacher go to staff and department meetings, getting involved in school sport and attending school camps to widen their understanding of the whole school curriculum.
About the Author: For further information on this topic, go to http://www.realteachingsolutions.com and the eBook "The Beginning Teacher's Compendium". Our author, Rick Boyce, had over 45 years' experience in the classroom. During that time, he supervised the teaching practice of many trainee teachers. In the latter years of his career as Head of Department, he often spoke to numbers of trainee teachers about his role and how Heads of Department could be of great assistance to them early in their careers. He always spent time explaining to these trainee teachers how best to use their limited time at their 'pract' school.

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