For trainee teachers, the most important professional relationship is likely to be with your mentor and time should be set aside for you to meet on a regular basis. Bear in mind that your mentor will have other commitments and responsibilities, and while the school or training establishment should ensure your mentor has the time to do this work, try to be as flexible as possible when arranging meetings.

Trainee teachers also work closely with a number of other permanent teaching staff who should, and usually will, be happy to give you the benefit of their teaching experience; but don’t expect them to initiate this support. Support staff are also a valuable resource. Many members of staff will want to give you space to learn through your own experience, so don’t be afraid to ask.

How will I be working with my mentor?

There is no specific and consistent job description that applies to the role of a mentor and the word is often used to describe many different roles. You will have a mentor during your placement; they will probably undertake most of the teaching observations and review progress, with some schools also assigning mentors as a source of additional personal support.

Your mentor could be:

  • a member of the senior management team who has specific responsibilities for initial teacher training and perhaps even for the professional development programme
  • a teacher who has mentoring as one of their professional duties
  • a head of department, possibly acting as subject mentor.

To understand the level of support expected you should contact your school. The National Education Union would expect a mentor to provide a trainee teacher with:

  • a regular allocated time in which you can discuss, plan, get advice on and review your work to date
  • constructive feedback on any of your observed lessons
  • more frequent, informal contact and a general empathy with, and awareness of, the kind of problems you may be encountering

What can I do if I feel my mentor is not giving me support?

As a trainee teacher, if you feel you are not being given adequate support, speak to both your course programme co-ordinator (provider) and/or the most senior person responsible for initial teacher training and trainee teachers in your school as early as possible. The National Education Union appreciates that you may find this difficult, and can provide advice and support on how to raise your concerns.

You must be sure that:

  • you are specific about what support you feel you should be receiving
  • you have listened to and acted upon advice when it has been given
  • you have clearly described your problems to your mentor.

Good mentors should have been trained to understand how it feels to be a new teacher. They need to be aware of how difficult it is to take on all the responsibilities of teaching, and to see how all the individual requirements add up to the total process of successful teaching for effective learning. They are an invaluable asset.

No matter what stage of teaching you are at, everyone needs a good mentor and, just as no one forgets a good teacher, no one forgets a good mentor either.