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The Student Teachers Perspective on Challenge within Teaching Practice

Rosalind Rice

PhD Student
University of Nottingham
Tel: 07779 089565

Paper presented at the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, University of Manchester, 16-18 September 2004


Adult Learning Theory *
Socio Cultural Perspectives *
Apprenticeship Model *
Cultural Knowledge *


Pattern of Student Teaching *
Mentees Personal Beliefs *
Learning to Teach *
Influences of the Mentor *



Adult learning theories have been identified as the dominant conceptual framework behind mentoring - Daloz's model locates student growth as a teacher within a context of support and challenge. It is considered that learning how to teach and learning about teaching relies greatly on the empathy, close professional understanding and common language built up between the subject mentor and the mentee. However, literature also suggests that there is an imbalance between support and challenge as aspects of mentoring in ITT. Whilst challenge appears to be prescribed in a number of models, it appears more elusive when it comes to being described in practice.


Many research studies investigating the effects of mentoring on the student teacher have reported positive outcomes. In particular mentoring has been linked to a variety of consequences, which include increased self-confidence and belonging within the profession. Indeed Hansford et al (2003) state that literature exists that suggests "mentoring is a panacea for a variety of personal and societal ills." The negative affects of an absence of mentoring are also recorded. Torrance (1984), for example suggests those individuals that remained mentorless were more vulnerable than mentored individuals to a range of problems such as educational failure, lack of career goals or focus and lack of enthusiasm.

Other research studies dealing with mentoring in educational contexts have revealed many advantages not only for the student teacher, but also for the mentor.

Various interpretations of mentor roles have been described in the literature on mentoring. However, whilst mentoring has become a key aspect of student teacher training for over 10 years a number of researchers (Gibb, 1999; Hawkey, 1998; Healy and Welchert, 1990) have identified that very few research studies in this area have situated mentoring within a wider theoretical or conceptual framework.

In this environment it is not surprising that there has been some disquiet over the role and effectiveness of the mentor. Bullough et al. (2003: 58) believe that there is a growing understanding of the shortcomings of the traditional patterns of teacher education in schools, and an awareness of how little is actually known and understood about teaching practice. They state, "there is a growing need to rethink student teaching and to generate alternative models of field experience" and, citing Buchberger et al. (2000), that given the increasing difficulty and complexity of teaching there is certainly a greater need for models that enhance teachers’ collaborative problem-solving capacity.

Howey and Zimpher (1999) support this view, and state, "Most fundamental to the improvement of teacher education is addressing how all teachers are prepared to work with one another." They suggest that one way to do this is by scrutinising the mentee, mentor relationship.

Given that very few studies have situated mentoring, in particular the role of cognitive conflict or challenge in student teachers learning to teach, within a wider theoretical or conceptual framework it is my intention within this paper to consider the conceptual framework for mentoring and the use of challenge in effective mentoring.


The Department of Education and Science through Circular 09/92 (DES, 1992) and the subsequent Education Act of 1994 established that schoolteacher mentors in England and Wales were to have an enhanced role in the initial professional development of student teachers (Adey, 1997). The DES stipulated that all courses for teacher education must use competence statements in assessing, recording and developing the student teachers’ abilities to teach. Thus competency-based teaching was put forward as the basis for improvement of teacher performance in the classroom. The underlying principle behind the adoption of behaviourism was the belief that the significance of theoretical knowledge in training the student teacher was a purely technical or instrumental one. Competence as a teacher was defined such that assessment by HMIs and others involved with teacher education could be more easily made.

Whilst the term mentor was absent from the circular the consequence was, according to Fletcher (2000), that "When Kenneth Clarke … announced that schools were to assume the role of teacher training that was previously organized, assessed and validated almost exclusively by lecturing staff in higher education institutions, he effectively created a new workforce – school mentors." However, the use of the term "experienced practitioner", as opposed to mentor, within the circular is consistent with the belief that only experience is necessary within an apprenticeship model.

Rather than being introduced by Circular 09/92 the term mentor was first formally used following the implementation of licensed and articled teacher schemes of 1988 and 1989, for which the Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education established arrangements for "mentoring" associated with these schemes. These requirements were subsequently formalised by DES Circular 24/89 (DES, 1989), which stated that "mentors" were to be prepared for their new role in teacher education with some training so that they could structure the training of student teachers. Circular 09/92 in practice, if not in word, extended mentoring to all ITT.

DfEE Circular 04/98 (DfEE, 1998), which was introduced by the new Labour Government following its election in 1997, introduced a number of new measures. In particular the circular contained a prescriptive ITT curricula and an exacting list of almost 100 competence-based assessment standards. Geen et al. (1999: 59) stated that this circular, together with other innovations introduced, included "the substitution of a series of ‘standards’ for the competences listed in circular 9/92, the implementation of core curricula for trainees … and the creation of career entry profile."

DfEE Circular 4/98 was subsequently superseded by the Teacher Training Agency (TTA, 2002) document entitled "Qualifying to teach: Professional Standards for Qualified Teacher Status and Requirements for Initial Teacher Training".

In sum these reforms confirmed the requirement that the majority of the PGCE course undertaken by student teachers was to be in schools. More significantly teacher mentors were given a more powerful role in deciding the fate of student teachers within the context of the highly prescriptive competence based training required by the Department for Education and Skills.


Adult Learning Theory

The conceptual framework behind mentoring was identified by Hansford et al. (2003: 53) as being adult learning theories. They identified the dominant theories as being Brookfield's theory of adult learning (1986), Daloz's theory of adult learning (1986), Kolb's theory of experiential learning (1984), and Schön's theory of reflection on learning (1987).

The basic tenet of these theories is that learning will be facilitated if learners, i.e. mentees, are both supported and challenged by their educational environment (Hansford et al., 2003: 53). This view is supported by cognitive skill psychology, which has emphasised how skill acquisition can be assisted through various forms of "coaching". Sloboda (1986: 32-33) states that "real life skills … are usually learnt with the aid of some form of coaching", and argues that appropriate feedback on practice, which he characterises as "knowledge of what your actions achieved", is "essential to skill acquisition." This underpins Tomlinson’s (1995: 13) statement that "... the acquisition of practical capability requires cycles of plan-attempt-feedback-replan, a process which when done with the same action unit tends to produce a gradual tuning … that makes it accurate, economical and intuitive."

Daloz's model locates student growth as a teacher within a context of support and challenge. Within this model it is considered that where support is low there is little opportunity for any challenge to occur and the student may withdraw from the mentoring relationship. Conversely, if support is high, new knowledge and new images of teaching become possible for the student.

The key element of challenge, as an active mentor intervention, is conceptualised by Daloz as cognitive dissonance. This is introduced by the mentor in order to question the student teacher’s thinking, and to critique the student teacher’s pre-conceptions and tacit assumptions.

Socio Cultural Perspectives

Vygotsky’s (1987) socio cultural perspective (Tharp and Gartmore, 1988; Wertsch, 1991; Rogoff, 1995) has also been a significant influence on the theoretical underpinning of mentoring. Vygotsky suggests that human activities are rooted in social participation and learned not in isolation, but with the assistance of others. Social participation is thus seen as an important influence on the learning potential of school-based mentoring, which has been described as:

"… listening to students; modelling teaching and general classroom management; analyzing and discussing (their) own practice; observing students; negotiating with students, their own learning goals; supporting students while they teach; ... providing constructive criticism..." (Edwards and Collison, 1996: 27-28)

Apprenticeship Model

The context of a more experienced person working with a less experienced person has been described as the "Apprenticeship Model". Lunt et al. (1992: 138) cite Clutterbucks' (1985) work as locating the roots of mentoring firmly within the apprenticeship system and emphasise the "power-dependency status" of this model, if only because of the higher level of expertise located in the mentor.

Lave and Wenger (1991), working within the "situated cognition" or "situated learning" perspective, take the idea of apprenticeship as central to learning. Their perspective incorporates a number of linked theories, which focus not on individual cognitive processing, but on the whole person and the context and culture in which they learn (Resnick, 1994). Lave and Wenger perceive learning as a process of participation in "communities of practice". They suggest that in this process the learner evolves over a period of time from peripheral participation to a position of increased engagement with the community they are within. Eventually the learner moves towards full participation, and in doing so absorbs the practice of the community.

However, Lave and Wenger were considered by some (Jones et al., 1997: 254) to have been so strongly influenced by the apprenticeship model as to represent it as an idealised relationship, whilst it was less than that in reality.

Following their view of situated learning Lave and Wenger (1991: 53) also suggest that learning will involve a learner becoming a different person with respect to "the possibilities enabled by these systems of relation." They consider "to ignore this aspect of learning is to overlook the fact that learning involves the construction of identities." They also see learning as cultural, with the culture of the individual determining the way in which they see and interpret their experiences, and how students see themselves as teachers.

Cultural Knowledge

Cultural knowledge is described by Levine and Moreland (1991) as a set of thoughts shared by members of a group, which guide the actions of the members, and provide a common interpretative framework for their experiences. They consider these thoughts can be demonstrated through the use of routines or the use of common language. Maynard (2000) considers it is:

"… important to emphasise that cultural knowledge is not a domain of knowledge distinct from teachers’ practical professional knowledge. Rather, it is the lens through which such knowledge is viewed and interpreted and which gives order, significance and meaning to teachers’ – and student teachers’ – experiences." Maynard (2000; 18)

These views coincide with those of Schutz (1967), who states that given the multiple ways of interpreting experience, common means of interpretation and disparate worlds are vital in trying to establish a common language for talking about a meaning. For without that common understanding it is impossible to acquire and test knowledge, which is the basis of learning. For the mentee this has to be newly learnt, additionally it has to be sustained by both individuals involved. This relationship is thus reliant on interaction between the two parties involved; it inherently involves creativity, in particular in the use of language.


Awaya et al. (2003: 3) consider that in looking to clarify, and hopefully understand, the mentoring relationship it would seem necessary to critique the role of mentor. This is an area where little research has been undertaken, and takes in the "missing role" of the mentor, as described by Edwards and Collison (1995), and Elliot and Calderhead (1993: 176). According to Zanting et al. (2001: 58) this "missing role" refers to the lack of articulation of practical knowledge, one of the key mentor roles. Awaya et al. (2003: 11) states that "Sharing practical knowledge with students is a matter of professional dialogue", thus a two-way conversation between mentor and mentee on an equal basis would be the ultimate representation one could hope for.

Significantly the impact of the mentor can be positive or negative. For example if a mentor adopts a pedagogical strategy, which challenges the often firmly held beliefs of a student teacher, then this could result in dissonance leading to change or rejection depending on the level of support (Daloz, 1986).

The context in which school-based teacher education takes place also plays a role in the student teacher’s development process. There are certainly indications that teachers’ ideas about what makes a good professional have been influenced by the increasingly prescriptive formulae which government has introduced (Smith, 2001), with consequent difficulties in professional socialization and the development of practical competence experienced by new entrants to teaching. This he considers may affect the entry of students into teaching and retention of newly qualified teachers.

Having accepted that the mentor is a key influence on student teachers there is common agreement that support is a key role of the mentor. Some researchers have built models detailing the support that mentors should provide to student teachers. For example Watkins and Whalley (1995) identified five temporal phases during which the student teacher requires support and information, much of it from mentors. These phases are before arrival; on arrival; introduction phase; main work phase; and later phases and exit.

In following the concept of the apprenticeship model several writers, in particular Furlong and Maynard (1995), have looked at the stages of development which a student teacher typically moves through in learning to teach and developed reciprocal models of mentoring to support such development, from the apprenticeship and competency models, through to the reflective model. In refining their model of mentoring Furlong and Maynard note that:

"Schools need to come to recognise that mentoring is an active process; it demands more than simply supporting students up to the level of minimum competence, challenging though that is." (Furlong and Maynard, 1995: 195)

Buchberger et al. (2000: 49) also suggest that given the increasing difficulty and complexity of teaching there is certainly greater need for other models that "enhance teachers collaborative problem-solving capacity". This view is supported by Howey and Zimpher (1999) who state, "Most fundamental to the improvement of teacher education is addressing how all teachers are prepared to work with one another". They suggest that one way to do this is by scrutinising the mentee, mentor relationship and ask if there should be a third party in the form of another student teacher.

Concern with the impact of exit competences led Burgess and Butcher (1999: 35) to argue that the mentor role becomes a vital one if students are going to develop beyond a bare competence framework, but note that, as per Martin (1996: 51), "different student teachers will develop at different speeds in different competences and in different contexts."

Accordingly, Bullough et al. (2003) believe that there is a growing understanding of the shortcomings of the traditional patterns of teacher education in schools, and an awareness of how little is actually known and understood about teaching practice. Accordingly, they state (op cit: 58) that "there is a growing need to rethink student teaching and to generate alternative models of field experience."


Pattern of Student Teaching

Despite the reforms in ITT it has been stated that "the typical pattern of student teaching has remained little changed for 50 years" (Bullough et al., 2003), with the usual scenario involving a student teacher being placed in a classroom with a day-to-day mentor teacher for varying lengths of time, e.g. a term or a semester. In this pattern it is hoped that the student teacher assumes complete responsibility for the classroom management, and then whilst going "solo", "practices" teaching. In this view of ITT:

"The university provides the theory, the school provides the setting, and the student teacher provides the effort to bring them together." (Wideen et al., 1998)

Having set out this view, which is deliberately simplistic, there are in practice many other factors involved in student teachers moving from an unskilled state to that of a competent practitioner than simply being placed in a school environment with a subject mentor.

Mentees Personal Beliefs

It has been stated that many students enter ITT without a detailed or extensive knowledge of the school environment from the perspective of a practicing teacher, though they have had a long apprenticeship of observation (Lortie, 1975). This apprenticeship, however, is from a limited perspective of learner, not teacher, which may distort the way in which they understand the processes of learning to teach. The consequence of this is they may not be well prepared cognitively or intellectually for what they experience, although they may have a detailed and coherent theoretical understanding of classroom pedagogy.

It is considered that history-based personal beliefs are important influences in learning to teach (Holt-Reynolds, 1992; Knowles, 1992; Elbaz, 1983; Bullough, 1991). Hawkey (1998: 658) also considers that there is literature indicating that mentors bring their own particular orientations and conceptualisations of their role to their mentoring task (Abell et al., 1995; Saunders et al., 1995), and further that such orientation, be far from being specific to mentoring, operate on a more general level (Elliott and Calderhead, 1993). Calderhead (1996) found that many different kinds of knowledge have been described as underpinning effective teaching and cited previous research as suggesting that much of this knowledge is derived from experience. However, he also suggested that teachers are influenced by beliefs and by guiding metaphors or images. He suggests, quoting Korthagen (1993), that these were often established before students begin training as teachers and "can be quite resistant to change" (Korthagen et al. 1993: 5).

After interviewing student teachers Pendry (1997) saw that students have:

"such powerful preconceptions, that … (their learning was) significantly shaped by the histories they brought with them …" Pendry (1997: 93)

In considering the experience of students Sugrue (1997) sees the need to adopt a "post-modern" view, stating:

"The personal experiences of student teachers, their apprenticeship of observation and the embedded cultural archetypes of teaching collectively yield both the form (socio-historical situatedness) and the content (beliefs, attitudes, dispositions, and behaviours) of their teaching identities. By deconstructing student teachers’ lay theories, therefore, insights are gained into the most formative personal and social influences on their professional identities." Sugrue (1997: 214)

The extent of teachers’ beliefs and their importance has also been identified by Beijaard et al. (2000: 262) who state:

"Teachers’ beliefs play a very important role in building practical knowledge. As parts of practical knowledge, both beliefs and knowledge are closely interwoven, but the nature of beliefs makes them the filter through which new knowledge is interpreted (Pajares, 1992; Richardson, 1996). This filtering effect of beliefs then shapes thinking and learning. Beliefs, therefore, play a central role in organizing knowledge and defining behaviour (Richardson, 1996)." (Beijaard et al.,2000: 262)

Entwistle et al. (2001) provide evidence of a developmental trend concerning "good teaching". They consider that this progression begins with strong, but unexamined, beliefs about "good teaching", developing through a guiding, but intuitive, image to consciously constructed conceptions. However, Grossman (1992) warns that once practitioners have established stable classroom routines, they may be reluctant to question them and begin the move towards a higher state of competence.

Learning to Teach

Literature suggests a number of concerns common to most trainee teachers, but which vary depending on the stage they have reached in their training. Kagan (1992) reviewed 40 research studies on professional growth among trainees and newly qualified teachers, including a consideration of Fuller’s (1969) thesis that trainees move outward from concerns about self to concerns about situation and task, and then to concerns about the students they teach and the impact of teaching. The review found that, in general, most trainees appear to be intensely concerned with the image of self-as-teacher at the outset of their training, and that, as their most urgent self-related concerns are resolved, trainees’ attention tends to shift towards concerns about situation and task, and the impact of teaching on students (Conway and Clark, 2003).

Berry and Loughran (2002) note that trainee teachers are often concerned most, at least in the early stages, with what they teach, as opposed to how they might teach it, and, as a consequence, their teaching is often focused on "in front of the class" delivery. The authors argue that one of the roles of teacher educators is to assist trainees to move beyond such concerns, for example, by acknowledging dilemmas in their own practice. They stress, however, that this is a risky strategy because trainees’ self-esteem and teacher educators’ credibility may be at stake. Further to this, a study by Kagan (1992) also warns that the initial focus on self appears to be a necessary element in the process of teacher development, and that any attempts to shorten or abort it may be counterproductive.

A number of studies have suggested, however, that it is important to be wary of generalising about trainees’ concerns. For example, Guillaume and Rudney (1993) found that while trainees’ concerns could be broadly categorised – for example, concerns about lesson planning and evaluation; concerns about working with co-operating teachers – the exact nature of trainees’ concerns within each broad area changed as they developed greater independence in the classroom. For instance, in a classroom situation, trainees’ concerns might shift from concerns about sticking to their lesson plan, to concerns about getting a favourable evaluation.

Essentially a student teachers’ aim should be to get better at teaching and to progress towards becoming an effective practitioner through "investigating their own classroom techniques" (Winter, 1989) and establishing intelligent reflection on past experiences initiated by working with their subject mentor on a day-to-day basis. The assumption though, that "gaining classroom experience" will automatically result in effective teaching has to be treated with caution.

Hayes (1999: 343) suggests that many experienced practitioners seem able to make effortless decisions about classroom practice in a way that student teachers and NQT’s find baffling. Calderhead (1984) also refers to a number of different models, which emphasise the importance of teaching experience in decision-making.

In the light of the demands made by exit competences on student teachers Hayes (1999) examined the influence of decision-making as a factor in "getting better at teaching" and a variety of models, which purport to explain the way in which decisions are made, the factors that influence the process and the difficulties facing those who assess competence. Hayes suggests that if decision-making is central to effective teaching, it is essential that student teachers gain a firm grasp of the factors influencing it, the way in which decisions are taken and refined, and the relationship that exists between decisions and effective teaching. As a consequence a key issue is that training providers must be informed of how they might help student teachers "get better at teaching" through improving their decision-making capability.

Kwo (1994) emphasises the importance of determining the relationship between "interactive thought" and "decisions". It is unclear how much the development of teaching skills is affected by the subliminal messages that student teachers receive about acceptable practice from more experienced practitioners and the close attention they are prepared to respond to this. Any model has to consider, the extent to which a student teacher‘s ability to make more effective decisions is the result of careful consideration, instinctive reaction, responding in a way that will meet with a subject mentor or university tutor’s approval, or "a deep-seated impulse that defies ready explanation" (McCallum et al. (1993).

If effective decision-making is an essential component of "getting better at teaching" (Hayes 1999: 347), it is important to consider the factors that combine to influence the process. Calderhead (1984) suggests that decisions are routine for experienced teachers and do not require conscious thought. However, there may be a need for a clearer definition for the word "experienced"’, and not simply in the context of the novice and expert.

Jackson (1968) states that most student teachers find that their teaching is predetermined; the corollary is that they need their mentor to help guide their actions by explaining why they do what they do. However, there are many occasions when experienced subject mentors may not know why they act in a certain way whilst teaching and "At heart, all decisions about appropriate teaching must be balanced against the immediacy of responding to individual learning needs." (Galton et al. 1999)

The challenge for the mentor is thus to consider how best to help the student teacher develop the art of "just knowing", a strategy on which experienced teachers rely so heavily. Of course as the student teacher becomes more aware of areas for development in their classroom practice due to regular discussions with their mentor and other teachers, plus their own "reflective thinking" (Pollard, 1996), they can persevere with their skill levels until they reach a point at which they feel, or are helped to recognise, that mastery has been achieved. A mentor’s role might then be to point out what has and has not been achieved by the student teacher. This cycle will be repeated many times in a teacher’s career, with the time taken to achieve this varying.

Influences of the Mentor

Learning how to teach and learning about teaching relies greatly on the empathy, close professional understanding and common language built up between the subject mentor and this "relies not only upon possessing certain skills and strategies, but also upon maintaining a certain student teacher relationship." Grimmett and MacKinnon (1992: 429) emphasise that "teaching proficiency provides a disposition towards learning." They go on to state, "craft knowledge emphasises judgement. It relies heavily upon intuition, care, and empathy for pupils. It is steeped in morality…" One of the problems that can occur between a mentor and mentee relationship is where the mentor dominates the teaching style of the mentee. This can result in the student teacher compromising their own values for the sake of a harmonious relationship and of course successful outcomes in their teaching practice (Hayes, 1999: 352).

Hayes (1999: 350) states that supervising tutors have the responsibility of helping and advising the student teacher on how to incorporate their insights gained so far into their practical teaching and maintain a fluidity with their existing notions about teaching- and- learning until they have moved beyond a purely intellectual appreciation of their significance, and the concepts have been taken on board by their subconscious. Hayes concluded that this all seems to rest on the student teacher’s willingness to accept advice from their mentor and other experienced teachers, and "their mental aptitude for assimilating new thinking into their present understanding."

Notwithstanding the acknowledged importance of the mentor to the student’s professional development Geen et al. (1999: 62) identified a number of factors which acted as constraints upon the mentors. Time was the main constraint upon mentors fulfilling the expectations of the mentoring role. In addition a lack of resources in the department hosting the student was a major factor, a third significant factor was "the failure of central government to implement any coherent system of in-service training in the field of mentoring."

Hobson (2002: 7) notes that Duit (1996: 457) considers that "learning will be influenced by students' conceptions about the aims of instruction … and the purpose of a particular teaching event." He suggests that it follows that it may also be beneficial for school-based mentors to gain insight into the perceptions and evaluations of student teachers for a number of reasons, as von Glaserfeld (1996) stated:

"Students perceive their environment in ways that may be very different from those intended by the educators ... This emphasizes the teacher’s need to construct a hypothetical model of the particular conceptual worlds of the students they are facing. One can hope to induce changes in their ways of thinking only if one has some inkling as to the domains of experience, the concepts, and the conceptual relations the students possess at the moment." (von Glaserfeld, 1996: 7)


There is, according to Elliott (1995: 261), some empirical evidence, which points to the centrality of the mentoring relationship as a source for student teacher learning about teaching. He also concludes "such (mentoring) relationships will dominate over any externally mandated agenda for development." Kwo (1994) agrees and notes that learning how to teach and learning about teaching rely greatly on the empathy, close professional understanding and common language built up between the subject mentor and the mentee. This:

"relies not only upon possessing certain skills and strategies, but also upon maintaining a certain student teacher relationship." Kwo (1994)

In agreeing Awaya et al. (2003: 11) emphasise "Sharing practical knowledge with students is a matter of professional dialogue’ thus a two-way conversation between mentor and mentee on an equal basis would be the ultimate representation one could hope for." Butcher (2002) concurs, believing challenge should be used in the context of a supportive and trusting training relationship. They go on to state "A relationship established on trust allows the mentor to introduce challenge, through which preconceptions can be peeled apart and tacit assumptions questioned." (Butcher, 2002: 198)

There is agreement within literature on the important characteristics of the mentoring relationship, in particular the emphasis on the quality of the relationship and the discourse between mentor and student being "real talk", and "not the discourse of instruction or the didactic talk"’ (Cochran-Smith and Paris, 1995: 189).

However, Maguire (2001: 104) has reported that many students "suggested that mentor training needed to take more account of these inter-personal aspects of mentoring in schools." She also reported (op cit.: 103) that this dominance could be taken to an extreme and 'many students were concerned that teachers had too much power in relation to trainee assessments - and that the process of reporting could encourage a form of bullying.'


According to Martin (1996) mentors are inclined to stress the interpersonal and supportive aspects of mentoring, whereas students also need evaluation and challenge, and they may not be aware of, or familiar with, theories of professional learning. This view is expanded upon by Zanting et al. (2001: 61) who state that, following the regulation perspective, intentional learning does not take place automatically. They state "In this view of learning, teachers should stimulate learners to be active and develop learning activities in order to learn." This is supported by an assertion that "policy makers and educators are increasingly striving for an increase of self-regulation by the learner and a decrease of external regulation by the teacher."

Zanting et al. (2001) further consider that extracting "a mentor’s practical knowledge can help student teachers understand a mentor’s lessons. Also, student teachers can better understand their mentor’s feedback on their lessons when they are aware of the mentors’ knowledge, beliefs, and values." This view most certainly affects a mentor’s consideration of what good teaching is all about and ultimately a mentor’s evaluation of a student teacher’s lesson. Awaya et al. (2003: 7-8) concur, seeing mentoring as a relationship rather than a role with a set of preconceived duties, in particular that mentoring is conceived as a journey that describes a unique relationship between mentor and student teacher. They consider the journey involves the building of an equal relationship characterised by trust, the sharing of expertise, moral support, and knowing when to help and when to sit back.

Challenge has been accepted by most involved in ITT as being necessary. McIntyre and Hagger (1996: 146) observed, "there … seems to be widespread although perhaps not universal, agreement that … mentoring means both providing constructive and critical advice challenging practices and preconceptions." Martin (1996: 44) supports this view, stating, "Mentoring novice teachers requires an appropriate mix of support and challenge." However, she goes on to qualify this (op. cit: 51) by saying that "The key is to make challenges appropriate for individual novices."

Others go on to describe why challenge may be useful. Banks et al. (1995) believe that where students hold superficial beliefs about teaching and pupil learning, challenge is essential for enabling and empowering students to understand and apply teachers' practical professional knowledge. Tomlinson (1995: 22) considers that all student teachers need challenging directly, but mentors need to get the whole picture before deciding the appropriate level and detail of challenge. He considers challenge to be most effective if part of a process of active mentor support in a developing skill cycle.

Whilst challenge appears to be prescribed in a number of academic models of mentoring, it appears more elusive when it comes to being described in practice. Burgess and Butcher (1999) note:

"There seems to be a discourse gap in what the H.E. partner assumes is happening, and the real life school situation in which mentors are presenting their student teachers with a solely supportive model of mentoring activity. " Burgess and Butcher (1999: 33)

Challenge is defined (Edwards and Collison, 1996: 27-28) as mentors "listening to students; modelling teaching and general classroom management; analysing and discussing own practice; observing students; negotiating with students, their own learning goals; supporting students while they teach; (and ... providing constructive criticism..." This is consistent with Elliott and Calderhead (1995: 51) who claim challenge is "essential for professional growth to occur."

Whilst the need for challenge is recognised Elliott and Calderhead (1995; 44) identified that "Very few [mentors] openly challenged their novices ideas and images of teaching." This accords with the observations of Feiman-Nemser and Parker (1993) and Zeichner (1992), who noted that there was a tendency for more challenging or confrontational interactions to be avoided. Edwards and Collison (1996: 38) concur and state "There was little evidence of mentors encouraging students to think critically about their own actions."


The impact of the mentor can be positive or negative, for example if a mentor adopts a pedagogical strategy which challenges the often firmly held beliefs of a student teacher, then this could result in dissonance leading to change or rejection, depending on the level of support (Daloz, 1986).

Within those advocating challenge there is agreement that, as per Back and Booth (1992), that challenge can only be fostered if based on friendship and trust. In addition, as reported by McIntyre and Hagger (1996), there seems to be widespread belief that mentoring means both providing constructive and critical advice challenging practices and preconceptions.

An area of concern for student teachers was the dominance of the mentor in the relationship. The research carried out by Maguire (2001) indicated that this dominance could be taken to an extreme. Additionally she stated that many students were concerned that teachers had too much power in relation to trainee assessments. Riessman (2002) states that for mentors committed to equalising the power relations within the mentoring relationship, relinquishing such (perceived) power would seem unproblematic. However, it cannot be taken that this is the case in all relationships.

Having established that mentor teachers play a large role in the professional development of trainee teachers, acting both as role models and instructors, there are unanswered questions as to how trainee teachers perceive the effectiveness of mentor teachers in this development.

In looking to clarify and hopefully understand the mentoring relationship it would seem necessary to critique the role of mentor as mentoring is not something that just happens to the mentee. Awaya et al. (2003: 3) state that time and again though, literature informs us of the privileged position of the mentor, with no clear role for that of the mentee. This naturally results in training being focussed on the role of the mentor, and presenting a two tier relationship with the mentee taking the subservient role, highly dependent on the mentor throughout teaching practice in school.

In conclusion, it should be remembered that student teachers are not passive, inert receivers of advice and guidance. They are in a dynamic and fluid relationship with their mentor (Jacques, 1995) and that the key is to make challenge appropriate for individual novices Martin (1996: 51).


Adey, K. (1997). "First Impressions Do Count: mentoring student teachers", Teacher Development 1(1): 123-132.

Awaya, A et al (2003). "Mentoring as a journey", Teaching and Teacher Education Vol 19, issue 1, January 2003, 45-56.

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