On our first day of teaching practice, we met Jane and Mark, co-ordinating mentor and subject mentor, respectively. We arranged our weekly meetings, and began our induction activities.
In our first meeting with each, we discussed what we were expecting of them, and vice versa. As we expected, and as their job titles implied, Mark would be responsible for day-to-day departmental issues, and Jane would concentrate on professional studies and whole-school issues. Our meetings with Jane are more formal, and involve all the teacher-trainees in school, whereas Mark's meetings are very informal, and concern only the two science trainees.
As the placement has progressed, these two roles have remained very different to each other. The actual topics we have discussed have had some overlap - especially in some cases where mentioning something to Mark has not resolved the problem while Jane has been able to tackle issues through more formal channels. The differences are that Jane has more direct contact with college - making her role appear more official, whereas Mark has most contact with us during actual teaching time and with problems we have as everyday teachers.
Although both mentors are very friendly and approachable, these differences do have an effect on our relationship with them. There are some things which, due to the informal nature of our relationship with Mark, have had to be dealt with by Jane - one such example was one particular teacher constantly leaving the class when Elaine, another trainee in my department, was teaching. The problem was that apart from the fact that we are not supposed to be left alone with a class, she wasn't getting lesson observations and the feedback she needed. We had discussed this with Mark, but the teacher didn't respond. When Jane asked us specifically about this - as if she knew already, or this had occurred in another department - she said she would try to do something, and this was effective. There are also some issues that are most effectively dealt with by Mark, as he has a closer relationship with the staff in the department.
Back in college, we have discussed our teaching practice experiences, and some people have had very mixed and, indeed, changing experiences. It seems that our pattern of informal subject mentors and more formal co-ordinating mentors is widespread, although in some cases the co-ordinating mentor has been described as "strict" or even "unfriendly". Subject mentors seem to be universally "good", providing a friendly face and, in some cases, a shoulder to cry on. Several of our colleagues have also reported feeling comfortable discussing different subjects with the different mentors.
We have also discussed our opinions of the way the mentor roles are structured, and how we think it could be improved. The main thing we felt was lacking was time - most of our colleagues agreed with us that both subject and co-ordinating mentors are pressed for time and more effort could be made on the part of the school, and perhaps the LEA, to ensure that mentors have sufficient time to teach us the important aspects of the profession they need to, as well as deal with unexpected difficulties.
So our relationships with our mentors are not unusual. Both are invaluable to our progression in the profession, but in different ways. There are things that could be changed, but the mentors really do play a vital role in our development as teachers.