The best mentor for trainee teachers? An NQT

Laura Castree explains why sometimes an old hand isn’t always the ideal mentor and that NQTs could offer valuable insights to new starters that would have more benefit

Laura Castree

People helping one another out of a muddy pond

“How long does it take you to plan a lesson?”, I asked my mentor, with some desperation. “Around 30 minutes, but you must remember I’ve been doing this for 15 years,” came the response. My heart sank; it was taking me two hours.

A year on, as a newly qualified teacher, I would have recognised the question that was really being asked. I could have told my apprehensive, tired and shortcut-hungry self that lessons are not planned "from scratch" beyond the first year, that resources would be retrieved and refined, making every term a little easier.

I could have reassured the trainee me that I would be planning lessons in half an hour after one year, not 15.

Most importantly, I could have explained exactly how to do it. 

A rounded mentorship

An NQT mentor for trainees would be beneficial for multiple other reasons, too.

It is no secret that modern pedagogy is characterised by "trends" which disappear and return across decades, meaning that crops of graduate teachers will tend to share priorities in teaching. An experienced mentor may not recognise the current trends, while an NQT mentor would be an asset to a trainee attempting to navigate (and evidence) the priorities which define the contemporary training programme.

An NQT can also provide a more realistic role model. I benefited from the experience of two excellent teachers but found that this model at times proved as intimidating as it did helpful. How could I emulate their complete ease in the classroom? Exactly how are they planning a lesson in 30 minutes? Will I ever get to bed before midnight?

Embrace diverse inputs

While I am not disputing the value of an experienced role model to a trainee teacher, the current system seems to be at odds with the doctrine of slow and steady progress that characterises ITT courses.

In a profession that is famously fatal to perfectionism, it seems masochistic to present trainee teachers with mentors who are fully formed experts in the field, who may not quite remember how they got there. 

By choosing instead to offer experienced teachers as "consultants" and NQTs as "mentors", we could go some way to bridging the gap and allowing trainee teachers the support and realism they need to find their feet.

Laura Castree teaches German and French at Wrekin College in Shropshire

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