Exploring mentor learning through the practice of mentoring student teachers during school-based teaching practice.
School-based teaching practice with productive mentored support in actual classroom settings is a current focus in Initial Teacher Education and has been explored internationally and nationally as a mode of professional development for student teachers. In the South African context, as early as 2000, the Norms and Standards for Educators (South Africa, Department of Education, 2000) declared that teaching practice is central to Initial Professional Education of Teachers (IPET). Currently South African Minimum Requirements for Teacher Education Qualifications (South Africa, Department of Higher Education and Training, 2011) stipulate that learning in practice needs to take place in school settings with mentored support. The historical notion of mentor depicted an experienced, older, wiser person, whose roles included educating, counselling, guiding, supporting, being a confidant and parenting with the goal of mentoring as finding one‟s role in adulthood. Traditional roles focused on one-to-one relationships whereas more contemporary views allow for collaborative learning with a view to support not only the mentee but mentor learning as well. The purpose of the study is to explore mentor learning through the practice of mentoring student teachers during school-based teaching practice. The study was supported by a qualitative approach located in the interpretive paradigm. A case study methodology using multi-mode qualitative data collection methods drew on the learning experiences of four teachers who serve as mentors at one specific school in the Chatsworth area. The data which was collected through a biographical questionnaire, individual face to face semi-structured interviews and a focus group discussion allowed the participants to explore and interpret experiences of mentoring and learning during school-based teaching practice (Maree, 2007). Drawing on the data generated, this study found that mentor learning in the context of this school took place when the mentor teachers were able to take their formal studies, experiences of teaching and mentoring and work collaboratively during the Site based Initiative for Mentoring (SIM). Evans‟s (2002) study which explores four elements of teacher development was adapted as the lens for the study. The four elements for teacher education and development were signposted as attitudinal, functional, role and cultural development and learning. Drawing on the data generated, the analysis of this study revolved around two themes. The themes spoke to how mentors perceived and enacted their roles as mentor teachers by being mentor leaders, displaying passion as well as being problem solvers. The second role of being a supporter to student teachers entailed emotional support, support in acquiring practical skills as well as extending the work of the university. The mentor teachers learnt about mentoring in the context of their practising school when the mentor teacher participants were able to learn with and from others. Learning about mentoring was displayed as functional learning as the mentor teachers learnt new strategies or modified existing strategies such as time-saving techniques and mentor pedagogy. The participants learnt from student teachers, other mentor teachers as well as through their own reflection and embraced the discourse of collegiality and collaboration within the practice of mentoring. The findings in relation to what and how learning happened indicated that mentor teachers had opportunities to learn about mentoring through the practice of mentoring. Mentors have also recognised that competence and skills gaps hinder mentoring and result in a fragmented practice in the school context. Great emphasis is placed on mentoring for Initial Teacher Education. The responsibility of the university in providing a structured mentoring programme for all mentors should give purpose and direction to the practice of mentoring during school-based teaching practice. Mentor teachers play a pivotal role in the life of the student teacher, but this is best accomplished when they are motivated to successfully implement what was previously articulated in policies.