Career coach

11th March 2005 at 00:00
You grasshopper. Him guru. Gill Williams says it's up to you to make mentoring work

If you're on the Graduate Teacher Programme, the most important professional relationship you have in school is with your mentor. Like trainee teachers, mentors come in all shapes and sizes, and have varying amounts of teaching experience and knowledge of the GTP.

At its best, mentoring is a fine balance between giving support when it is needed and allowing the graduate trainee the freedom to test his or her ideas. Complaints from GTs about the quality of mentoring range from feeling suffocated because the mentor never leaves them alone, to wondering who their mentor actually is, as they rarely see them.

So, how do you rate the quality of the mentoring in your school? Do you get what you need? And, if you don't, what can you do?

Remember, this is a professional relationship between an experienced teacher and a trainee teacher. As a trainee, you have a part to play and you are entitled to make a contribution.

Mentoring should not just happen to you - you also have a responsibility for the quality of mentoring you receive. Mentoring is most effective when everyone involved knows what is expected of them, so be pro-active. Take the lead, it is your training programme.

If, like you, your mentor is new to the GTP, don't moan that you've been landed with someone who doesn't know what they are doing. If your Designated Recommending Body has a mentor's handbook, take time together to go through the guidelines. If your mentor is still unsure, contact your DRB tutor and ask for help. Even the most experienced teachers need new responsibilities explained.

Being a mentor can be rewarding and most mentors enjoy working with trainees. But mentoring also means giving up their time on a regular basis.

Recognise this commitment and make things easier for them. Don't complain when they come to your mentoring session unprepared. Instead, before the meeting, jot down the things you would like to talk about and hand the agenda to them so they will know what is expected and they can add their own items to talk over.

Make notes on the agenda during the meeting, and write down agreed targets.

Add the date of your next meeting and give a photocopy to your mentor for their file. Then make a note in your diary to get the agenda for the next meeting ready. In this way, you will both have a record of the meeting without giving the mentor extra work!

For those times when you need to contact your mentor and you're not due to meet -don't expect them to remember anything that you ask when passing them in a corridor. Write your mentor a memo. Most teachers are well intentioned but they are busy people.

Your mentor should be a "sounding board" for you as you develop your views and practise new teaching techniques. Don't be upset or think your mentor is being negative when you are criticised. All teachers, even the most experienced, expect to have developmental criticism. Unless your weak points are addressed, you won't improve your practice.

Taking control of mentoring sessions should make a difference, but if it doesn't don't sit in silence. Contact your DRB tutor and raise it with them. Mentoring is an important part of your career and the school has entered into an agreement to provide mentoring support. Unless you let them know, your DRB could be unaware that you are being overlooked.

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