This prompt from #te@achthought asks that we blog about what a good mentor does. Since I work with so many student teachers, I think I’ll discuss what a good master teacher does.
First and foremost, the master teacher needs to create a safe environment for the student teacher, a place where the student teacher can learn, make mistakes, try out new ideas, and otherwise explore him/herself as a teacher. The master teacher (MT) should be really thoughtful about which classes s/he gives to a student teacher–and the MT should intervene with students (appropriately) especially at the beginning. But the MT should also understand that the student teacher shouldn’t just be an exact copy of the MT–an ideal placement is one where the student teacher fashions a unique sense of who they are as a teacher.
A good master teacher functions as a sounding board in addition to being a more experienced professional. The MT should share teaching materials, but also take the opportunity to make visible the thinking necessary to design curriculum. The MT’s role is to foster independence in the student teacher (ST), so the MT should model, discuss, give feedback, support, and coach the ST.
The coaching role is really important. The MT should observe the ST regularly and make time to give feedback. Sometimes these feedback sessions should be more about asking questions and then being a sounding board as the ST works his/her way to an answer. Sometimes the session should include direct suggestions for teaching. Sometimes the session should be an open invitation to discuss whatever the ST wants to bring up. But the MT should never, ever make the ST feel that spending time talking about teaching is an imposition.
Being a master teacher requires empathy, intelligence, strength, and generosity. The most important thing a MT should do is know when to get out of the way. There’s no place for ego in the MT/ST relationship. At some point, the ST needs to go it alone and the MT needs to understand how to help the ST do just that.
I am so grateful to the excellent master teachers who work with our students at Fresno State. In writing this blog post, I thought about what you have done with our students and how you have helped them become strong teachers.