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Positive practices

What do you expect from teaching placements? They can be a trying time for trainees and mentors alike. Dawn Jones advises you how to make it a rewarding experience

The trainees most remembered by pupils are those who fail spectacularly. One class produced a beautifully executed bar chart showing the frequency of "ums" and "OKs" that a particularly nervous trainee got through during one lesson. Three years on, pupils still tell the tale of the RE trainee who did not know the story of Moses.

In my seven years as a subject mentor I have witnessed everything from the weird to the wonderful. We had one trainee who left within the first week and another who was so good he joined the department. He made his mark from the first week with his enthusiasm and obvious rapport with the pupils. In fact, without the trainee programme my school would have real recruitment problems in some subjects.

So what is a mentor's ideal mentee? Stand on your own two feet Most mentors are teaching full timetables, and though your teaching practice is the most important thing in the world to you, it probably ranks alongside several other important jobs on their list of things to do. If you can sort out your own photocopying, and arrange your own observation time in other departments, it gives your mentor extra time to sort out more important things - like tipping you off in advance when the university tutor is coming into school to observe a lesson!

Follow school rules

The big concern of all trainees is that they will not be able to cope in the classroom and that their discipline will fall apart. Any decent school will have a discipline support system in place. Use it.

Rather than rioting pupils, the most common problem I have seen is pace and timing of lessons. However, the weekly tutorial inevitably drags back to raking over individual discipline problems. Try not to dwell on them - the pupils will have forgotten them long before you do.

Get involved in everything you have the energy left for

The trip to Alton Towers, coaching the Year 7 football team or watching the christmas carol concert may seem low priorities, but they may be the things that encourage you to stay in the profession. They are the jam that goes with the bread and butter - and they look very impressive on your end-of-practice report.

Take a risk

No mentor sets out to make clones of themselves and we don't want to see our style and practices imitated at the cost of the trainee's individuality. Teaching practice should be a time to try out different techniques - move the desks around, try some role play, get pupils into the IT rooms. Now is the time to find out what works for you - and what does not. Pupils appreciate the change too.

Listen to the advice you are given and act upon it

Your mentor is not getting at you when he or she finds something at fault. They are trying to help you learn from your mistakes.

Remember to return everything you have "borrowed" during your teaching practice.

It is annoying to watch a full set of textbooks turn into an unusable half a dozen copies when a succession of trainees decide that it might be useful to hang on to a copy apiece.

Don't be too good

We poor mentors need to cling on to the hope that we have something to offer in the classroom - it makes us feel bad when trainees do things better than we can.

The bottom line is this: if I can envisage someone working next to me as a member of department, then he or she is a good trainee.

And the mentee's ideal mentor?

Let trainees observe you with some of your more challenging groups The temptation is always to show yourself in the best possible light, and be seen with only the best and brightest groups. It helps a demoralised trainee to see that we all have bad days and bad groups.

Be there to pick up a trainee when they are having a bad time

If possible invent a 25-hour day in order to fit this into your work schedule. The one hour a week that is set aside for mentor time should be jealously preserved. I admit, I have itchy feet, and I'm thinking of all the urgent things that I need to get on with, but it is the trainee's time. Each session should have a specific focus or it can easily become a well-trodden path to post-mortems of past lessons.

Do at least one written observation a week

I tend to write reams of notes. This is a bad habit that I need to get out of. I try to finish with two or three bullet points of areas that have been particularly impressive or that need to be worked on. If everyone in the department completes a written observation then it gives the trainee lots of different ideas. A colleague might pick up on something the mentor has missed.

Work as part of a team

Our trainees are provided with a team who are there to support them. In addition to the subject mentors, there are assistant senior mentors who oversee two or three trainees each and then a senior mentor. Everyone works together and there is a wealth of advice to go round.

A good mentor should ensure that the trainee comes into contact with as many staff in the department as possible - from the NQT to the head of department. We all have very different teaching styles and behaviour management techniques. By the end of teaching practice the trainee will, hopefully, have picked up different ideas.

Always have something positive to say, no matter how bad a lesson has been.

We were all trainees once. A word of encouragement can make all the difference. I, for one, would not want to go back to the days of teaching practice.

Dawn Jones is a subject mentor at Prestatyn high school taking students from the University of Bangor

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