To the Editor:
We are grateful that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s speech last fall at Teachers College, Columbia University, has spurred a national dialogue on teacher education (“Questions for Secretary Duncan,” Letters, Jan. 6, 2010). It is our firm belief that the most critical aspect of preparing new teachers to enter the field is mentoring.
Novice “intern” teachers need to be paired with master teachers, from whom they will learn the art of teaching as they concurrently integrate theory on instruction, research on best practices, and foundations in child development. Interns in our alternative-licensure program teach full time alongside carefully selected, expert mentor teachers. These mentors gradually release responsibility to their interns, recognizing that the same learning process applies to adults as to children: modeling, guided and shared practice, with the eventual goal of independence. Interns take a greater role as their own background knowledge and skill sets are activated.
Too often, novice teachers are underprepared for the complex realities of the classroom and are expected to find their own way with little scaffolding or guidance. As a nation, we would not accept this model for the instruction of our children. Nor does it suffice for the development of educators. Full-time mentoring of novice teachers allows those in training to experience the educational process in a way that befits learners of all ages, and honors the stages in teachers’ development as it moves them purposefully and incrementally toward success and independence.
Selecting master teachers to mentor novices allows the replication of artful, experienced teaching. An intended consequence is the creation of professional learning communities, through which we have the opportunity to push our thinking. Mentors’ practice only improves when they continually are asked to articulate the goals and objectives of their carefully constructed lessons. Children are the direct and obvious benefactors of this reflective approach to teaching and learning.
Teacher Preparation Program
Stanley British Primary School
A version of this article appeared in the March 03, 2010 edition of Education Week as Select Master Teachers To Mentor the Novices