Dear Ted

14th October 2005 at 01:00
I've got a student on placement with my class, but I only qualified two years ago and don't feel ready to be a role model. Any advice?

Ted says

Being a good role model is only one part of mentoring. No spitting on the floor, no swearing, ever cheerful - fine, but newcomers must do more than simply copy the nearest teacher. If every student merely aped someone else and never added anything, the profession would stand still.

One of the greatest attributes you have is empathy. You will remember those elements of early lessons: the dry mouth, nervous twitches, fear that the lesson will die halfway through, or that the class will riot. Understanding someone else's situation helps you to give useful advice.

When discussing lessons, avoid thinking solely how you would teach the class. New teachers need to fashion their own way of teaching. You might be a raving extrovert, leaping all over the classroom, but your student might be more measured, a stayer not a sprinter. Tips are fine, but they may suit the giver more than the receiver.

You can prepare some useful background information about the children, the curriculum and the community that you are in a unique position to understand.

You should be able to spot some of the inevitable errors that students make, such as trying to do too much, not always listening carefully, becoming absorbed with one or two children. Analysing someone else's lessons with them will also help you to become a better teacher.

Finally, if your student has a good idea, help them shape it. Don't kill every proposal with "Oh deary me, that's not in the QCA schemes of work".

It's a recipe for cheerless conformity.

You say

You have a lot to offer

A recently-qualified teacher has a better memory of what it was like to be training and can be a great source of support for training teachers. Don't be so hard on yourself. You have a lot to offer, and remember that the trainee will only be watching your lessons for a short while. You will become less of an example of how to do it and more of an adviser for how they can improve.

Maria Selby, Oxford

A mutual learning experience

Hang on. At what point does one become a role model? This is an opportunity, not a threat. Your student is coming on a placement to experience teaching and learning. How about trying to turn this into a mutually beneficial professional development exercise? A student teacher may well ask questions about what they have observed you doing which lead you to reflect on your own practice. I have often picked up a teaching tip from a student on placement.

Lesson observations can be beneficial at any stage of a career - hence the importance placed upon them for performance management and other purposes.

So long as the feedback is handled sympathetically, then there is no need for insecurity. You might even enjoy having someone to bounce ideas off.

Dave Lumley, Dudley

Help them develop - and you will too

I am also in my second year of teaching, albeit in secondary school, and now have my first placement student. I actually asked to mentor this student, partly because I know what a great opportunity it is for me, but also because I thought it would be good for my teaching to continue to be reflective. I have found that it is so easy to slip into careless habits.

As for being a role model, I'm not sure that's the point.

When I was training, the mentor who helped me most gave me the opportunity to develop my ideas and listened when it went right or wrong.

Vicky Hunter, Suffolk

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