For the second year in a row, I'm a mentor teacher for a UC Davis student who is working on a teaching credential in math. Last year's student teacher is now a math teacher in my department, and the school that hires this year's student teacher will also get an exceptional addition to their math department.
The "supervising teacher" at Davis sent out this article to us about how to be a better mentor teacher
. It was a worthwhile read.
I try to be realistic with my student teachers. When lessons go well, as they usually
do, I say so, and also delineate what I saw that was remarkable. If a lesson doesn't go well, they know it--and it does nobody any good to pretend otherwise. I solicit their thoughts on what they wanted, what happened, and where they think the lesson went off the rails. If there are larger lessons to be learned, we discuss them explicitly; if there's not, that's it. There's no browbeating, just an honest discussion of what went wrong. They've watched some of my lessons bomb, too, and we discussed those just as honestly.
I also show them the "lessons learned" from 20+ years of teaching, those "tricks of the trade" that make everyday life in the classroom just a little bit easier. Being a strong believer in the old adage "a stitch in time saves nine", I share my organization and procedures. I wouldn't try to force my model on anyone, but they won't learn anything if I don't at least show them.
I'm proud of the way I communicate with parents. I teach my student teachers that communication with parents should discuss objective observable behaviors, not assumptions or inferences or feelings. If a parent isn't moved by a rational explanation of what their student did that was wrong or inappropriate, saying how bad it made you feel isn't going to help much. I also don't hold punches when talking about grades. Today, for example, I sent out an email with the subject line "legally required notification". State education code requires me to notify parents whenever I think it possible or likely that their child may fail the course, and while I sent out such notifications just a few weeks ago, with final exams in a few days I thought it necessary to send the notifications yet again. "Given your child's current grade, which reflects all graded work prior to the upcoming final exam, it's mathematically possible that your student will fail the course and not receive math credit this semester." Yes, I put a little sugar before and after that, but the main point is the main point for a reason
, and I don't see any reason to minimize the consequences of low grades.
When I catch students cheating, I have a way of wording my emails that leaves no doubt what happened and what the consequences will be. Yes, I do it with the empathy of a fellow parent, but again, the main point is the main point for a reason, and the main point must be addressed directly. (BTW, there's a difference between being direct and being an a-hole.)
This is how I view my role as a mentor teacher--the "boots on the ground" part of teaching. At college they get the theory, the different ways to instruct, the ways to organize groups of students, etc. I ensure my student teachers practice those things, as that's what's expected of them in their own credential coursework. But they need to learn the whole job, not just the teaching part, and I work on that with them, too.
Gone are the days when the mentor teacher just disappeared and got a free period off! No, I have a lot of work to do in order to ensure my student teachers are ready to take charge of their own classes next summer. Their students will deserve a teacher who knows what she is doing (all 4 of my student teachers have been women, interestingly enough in math), and as I play a part in that, I take the responsibility seriously.
As an aside, I went through an alternative credentialing program; I was an "intern teacher", one who taught while simultaneously working on my credential for two years' worth of nights and weekends. Thus, I never had an official mentor teacher of type described above. Fortunately I was teamed up with some exceptional teachers at my school, and they took care of me as I learned the job. Totally different process, but at least I turned out ok!