Why every FE teacher should embrace being a mentor

Cultivating the next generation of talent is a shared responsibility and mutually beneficial - and the workload issue is a bit of a myth

Cultivating the next generation of talent is a shared responsibility and mutually beneficial - and the workload issue is a bit of a myth

1 Jul 2024, 5:00

As a teacher in the further education and skills sector, I firmly believe that it is our shared responsibility to cultivate the next generation of amazing teachers. And as a mentor with the support of an excellent provider, my own practice continually benefits too.

My experience of initial teacher education mentoring started nine years ago when I was a student at The University of Derby studying my PGCE in Further Education and Skills.

At that time, I was the trainee. The course was challenging, but it was transformational at the same time. Because of this, I jumped at the chance to be a mentor for the programme in September last year.

Reaping the benefits

Trainees bring a new outlook. The fresh perspective, the most up-to-date subject knowledge, the enthusiastic lens through which they see our subjects – we can use these skills too.

The University of Derby send us weekly ‘Curriculum Conversation’ prompts, allowing mentors to create the valuable link between theory and practice through open conversation with the trainee. Not only does this help me reflect and update the way I approach my own subject teaching, but it gives my trainee the confidence to present other ideas to me, too. I value her opinion, and as a result we have become a team, updating and improving delivery together at every opportunity.

Looking back on when you were a trainee, you will probably remember a few things; that nerve-wracking first lesson, spending days meticulously planning for every eventuality and agonising over the fact that you weren’t yet able to communicate your knowledge effectively to others. We must keep all of this in mind if we are to do a good job of supporting a trainee.

Regularly sharing our own experiences inevitably encourages open conversations. My trainee has been confident discussing when lessons have gone wrong because I have been open with her about my experiences – last week, let alone during my training!

After all, we’re all human, we all make mistakes and we’re all still learning.

Debunking the workload myth

There is a myth that mentoring a trainee will be time-consuming, adding to our already heavy workload. This doesn’t have to be the case. With the support of my initial teacher education (ITE} provider,  I’ve been able to effectively mentor a trainee who started out nervous without feeling like it had a detrimental impact on my own practice.

As someone with dyspraxia, organisation has often been a barrier. This regularly leads to vast overcompensation on my part, inevitably increasing my workload. However, my desire to pre-emptively log and plan was immediately quashed by University of Derby with a wealth of readily available and easily accessible supporting documents to help the mentor journey.

The year is mapped out, the expectations are clear and the relevant forms are stored neatly in a named file. The logistics of the mentoring role were already worked out for me, leaving time to concentrate on what I believe to be the fun part: enhancing a trainee’s subject knowledge and supporting them to flourish in the classroom setting.

Contributing to the sector

While pushing student teachers to transfer their university knowledge into pedagogical practice, it’s key that we mentors also offer other opportunities. Invite them to professional development. Involve them in parent’s evening. Ask them to join with marking and standardisation. These opportunities will assist them in becoming a confident practitioner, while encouraging you to reflect on your practice.

Ultimately, it is our duty to invest in the future of education while investing in our own practice. Mentoring allows us to do both.

Supporting trainees is not just an add-on for established teachers; it is critical – albeit non-essential – for the continuous development of our own skills. This experience has provided me with the freedom of reflection that we so seldom grant ourselves as practitioners, and for me, it has been a particularly rewarding year.

I cannot wait to start again with another excellent teacher of tomorrow in September.

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4 Comments

  1. Michael C

    I’m starting mentoring in September- this article was well worth a read. I often think a big problem in FE is how much mentoring new teachers get. My experience was being left to get on with it, so good to know the sector is waking up to this.

  2. Michael C

    As a Lecturer in the construction Industry I find this article really encouraging. Mentoring is such an important part of teaching. Good on FE Week for highlighting this area.

  3. Sophie

    I was a trainee in recent years and very much felt I was a burden to my mentor. It was refreshing to hear this approach from Tyler and gives me faith that there are mentors and teachers out there that do believe in a collaborative approach and understand that a trainee’s unique experience can bring a great deal to the role and to a mentor’s professional development.