Investigating the impact of a practicum on mentor-teachers’ beliefs about teaching and teaching practices

Paraskevi MOULARA, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece

Αreti-Maria SOUGARI, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece

Résumé
Les professeurs devenus mentors, collaborent avec des étudiants, aspirants professeurs, qui sont appelés à cultiver des stratégies de pointe intégrées dans leurs pratiques d’enseignement de la langue étrangère. Cette relation a un impact sur les mentors en ce qui concerne leurs pratiques d’enseignement et leurs points de vue. L’objectif de cette étude fut l’identification de cet impact multidimensionnel. L’outil de collecte des données était un questionnaire adressé aux mentors. Les résultats révèlent un changement des points de vue des mentors quant à leurs méthodologies d’enseignement, de leurs techniques, et des différents problèmes surgis dans la classe d’enseignement de langue ainsi qu’une adoption des pratiques propres aux aspirants professeurs. Les facteurs qui sont peut-être responsables des changements susmentionnés tels que l’âge du mentor, les années d’expérience dans l’enseignement, le nombre des participations au programme et leur affiliation ont été également examinés. La conclusion est que ces facteurs n’influencent pas l’impact. Une analyse détaillée et méticuleuse de ces résultats a permis d’éclaircir l’impact positif du mentorat sur l’amélioration de la qualité de l’enseignement des professeurs.

Mots-clés : Aspirants professeurs, Changement des opinions, Mentors, Pratiques d’enseignement

Abstract
In-service teachers, who collaborate with student teachers, become mentors in their attempt to cultivate state-of-the-art strategies of foreign language instruction instilled in their teaching practices. It is believed that this established relationship has an impact on the mentor-teachers regarding their teaching practices and beliefs about teaching and learning. The present study [1] sought to identify this multidimensional impact with the help of a questionnaire which addressed mentors’ experience. The results throw light into the change in mentors’ beliefs about the teaching methodology adopted, techniques, and various issues that arise in a language classroom as well as an adoption of student teachers’ practices as a result of their participation in the practicum. The factors that may be responsible for the aforementioned changes, such as the mentors’ age, their years of teaching experience, the times participating in the program and their affiliation, were also investigated and it was concluded that they do not have any kind of impact. In a nutshell, an in-depth, meticulous analysis of these results has been documented highlighting the positive impact of mentoring on the in-service teachers’ enhancement of teaching.

Keywords: Beliefs’ change, Mentor-teachers, Student teachers, Teaching practices

1. The concept of mentoring

Mentoring has been defined as an interpersonal relationship between a more experienced individual, the mentor, and a less experienced one, the protègè or mentee, aiming at the professional and personal advancement of the latter (Kram (1985) as cited in Eby, Durley, Evans, & Ragins, 2006). It seems that the focal point of the research on mentoring has concentrated on the impact of such mentoring on the mentee as the protégé who after all is the beneficiary part of the relationship. Ehrich, Hansford, and Tennent’s (2004) review of literature on mentoring programs presents a percentage of 82.4 % of studies emphasizing the mentees’ benefits from the mentoring process. These studies outnumber the existence of studies that have focused on the mentors’ gains. The fact that these studies are fewer than half compared to the ones which measure the benefits of the mentees can be attributed to the fewer studies whose scope was to investigate mentors’ beliefs.
More recent theoretical perspectives on the matter of mentorship highlight the mutual, beneficial growth and development of both parties (Fletcher & Ragins, 2007; Mukeredzi, 2017). Based on Ramaswami and Dreher’s (2007) study, mentees can be a source of critical information and provide feedback to the mentors resulting in the enhancement of mentors’ performance as the latter improve their managerial skills, access new information and their technical expertise can be broadened (Eby & Lockwood, 2005; Mullen & Noe, 1999). Other empirical studies have classified the benefits of mentoring into two broad categories: the objective career outcomes and subjective career outcomes (for a review see Ghosh & Reio, 2013). The former includes compensation and promotion, whereas the latter are affective indicators of career success such as job and career satisfaction, organizational commitment, turnover intent, and subjective ratings of job performance. Eby et al. (2006) concluded that the proximal benefits reported by the mentors were their job satisfaction and their organizational commitment. More precisely, mentors exhibited short-term instrumental benefits like improved job performance and recognition by others, and short-term relational benefits like rewarding experience and support, resulting in their intention to participate again in a future mentoring program. Kram (1985) proposed that mentoring can function as psychosocial support as well, in the sense of an individual’s feeling of competence, friendship, and self-esteem (as cited in Tong & Kram, 2013).
Mentors’ perspectives on the benefits derived from the mentoring experience include teachers’ reassessment of classroom management, self-reflection of their beliefs about teaching and improvement of teaching sensitivity and skills through analysis and discussion on the concept of teaching (Huling & Resta, 2001). Additionally, similarly with the results of the study presented in the present paper, mentor-teachers mention that through the engagement of the student teachers (i.e. the protègès) in the teaching practice, they are exposed to a source of new ideas about teaching, while receiving feedback and familiarizing themselves with new resources of teaching techniques, curriculum and lesson planning. The mentoring experience led to an improvement of the mentors’ communication skills and classroom teaching practices. Similar results are reported in Hanson and Moir’s (2008) survey as a full release mentoring program -such as the New Teacher Center Induction Model [2] – which provided teachers with valuable experience in collaboration while broadening their perspectives of teaching through the ostracism of the notion of one teacher per classroom. What is more, the induction of self-reflection enhanced mentors’ understanding of teaching and learning and resulted in the enrichment of their repertoire of teaching methods, by making use of different kinds of assessment while adopting a differentiated instructional approach.
Examining the issue of the impact of mentoring on the mentor-teachers from a less theoretical point of view, Liu, Tsai and Huang’s (2015) study offers an insight into the issue of the mentoring impact on mentors from a more practical perspective. Thus, the investigation of the collaborative, professional development of three pairs of pre-service teachers (i.e. student teachers) and mentor-teachers in a junior high school regarding technology integration into instruction shed light into the protégés’ influence on mentors’ teaching. It seems that novice, less experienced teachers feel more confident with the use of technology as they are more proficient in computer use than the more experienced teachers (Russell, Bebell, O’Dwyer, & O’Connor, 2003), but once teachers with fixed teaching philosophies come into contact with less experience who are technologically aware change towards a more enhanced use of technological materials like PowerPoint presentations, animated pictures, after the mentees’ guidance and help (Liu et al., 2015). Thus, the realization that technology enhanced students’ motivation and concentration, facilitating the comprehension of abstract notions, motivated in-service teachers to improve their technological content knowledge (TCK). Generally, the time factor was, likewise, a crucial indicator of the benefits of a mentoring program as mentor-teachers advanced their technological skills in a faster way than previously and altered their tendency of just presenting technological content knowledge to meticulously constructing TCK bases.
All the benefits derived from the mentors (1) and mentees (2) close contact could be due to parameters like sharing experiences, views, and stories could affect the benefits experienced by the protégés (Jones, 2013). Furthermore, the feedback shared, the mentoring skills developed during the procedure along with the discussions carried out inside the dyadic relationship contribute to an effective and productive collaboration. In Jones’ study (2013), all the mentors mentioned that their personal reflections on their mentoring skills and the mentees’ reflections facilitated their learning. Another crucial factor that can have a great impact on both members of the relationship is the existence of similarities and differences between the two members as differences imply opportunities for challenging situations outside of their comfort zone. However, the time factor plays a crucial role in this kind of relationships. Mentors admitted that the time that the feedback is given may affect their learning as well as through the passage of time, they tend to self-reflect less.

Overall, mentors appreciate mentoring as it affects positively their subsequent teaching, leading to greater professional competence and awareness around this experience, while leading to less negative attitudes towards working with trainees (Balassa, Bodòczky, & Saunders, 2003). However, it seems that most studies have focused on the mentees’ development, thus resulting in a minimum number of studies that sought mentors’ benefits. Based on this, it comes as no surprise that even a smaller number focused on the practical benefits for the mentors themselves derived from their participation in a practicum (i.e. teaching practice) and how these can be explained and identified through different parameters. After analyzing the methodology of the current study, these practical impacts on the mentors will be further identified.

2. Methodology

2.1. Research methodology

Since the vast majority of past studies have examined the impact of a practicum on student teachers and the remaining studies investigating the matter from the perspective of the mentor-teachers have emphasized the professional gains, the impact of the mentoring on in-service teachers from a practical point of view is yet to be examined. Thus, this survey is seeking answers to the following research questions:

  1. What is the impact of the practicum on the mentors’ beliefs about teaching?
  2. What is the impact of the practicum on the mentors’ teaching practices?
  3. Which factors affect the impact of the practicum on the mentor-teachers?
  4. What is the impact of the practicum on how mentors view the teaching profession?

2.2. Context of the study

In an attempt to identify any probable impact of a practicum on mentor-teachers, the cooperating teachers in the teaching practice program undertaken by the School of English at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki participated for the needs of the present study. With regard to the practicum, student teachers who are allocated to Greek, state, Primary or Secondary schools, observe lessons conducted by their mentor-teacher as well as their partner, undertake some administrative work like correcting exercises or collecting teaching materials, teach an assigned class for 1-3 hours per week and receive feedback from their mentor.

2.3. Participants

Sixty-nine in-service teachers of state, Primary and Secondary schools in Northern Greece who had previously collaborated as mentors with the School of English of the Aristotle University for the needs of the teaching practice course attended by student teachers were the participants of the current study.

2.4. Instrument

A questionnaire was designed for the purposes of the present study in order to collect information regarding teachers’ perceptions about teaching and their participation in the practicum. The questionnaire consists of five parts. The questions in Part A address teachers’ attitudes and opinions about teaching based on a five-point Likert scale on a continuum of Strongly Disagree (1) to Strongly Agree (5). The next two parts, Part B and Part C, include forty-four questions addressing issues related to the impact of the practicum on the teaching practices followed. The participants were invited to respond to a four-point Likert scale ranging from Not at all (1) to To a large extent (4). Part D addresses more practical issues. To be more specific, a list of teaching practices that may have been implemented by student teachers is provided to the participants. At that point, they were invited to report any activity that they are considering for future use or any activity they have already adopted based on the teaching practices followed by the student teachers. The last part, Part E, collects demographical information regarding mentors’ qualifications, affiliation, and seminars attended. Lastly, in an open-ended section, participants were prompted to record their perceptions of their role as mentors and offer general comments about mentoring.

2.5. Procedure

Prior to the administration of the questionnaire using Google Forms, it was piloted to a group of five teachers. Those teachers who had taken part in the practicum in the last four years were the ones who received the questionnaire. The questionnaire required approximately 20 minutes to complete.

2.6. Statistical methodology

The quantitative data relevant to the present paper are analyzed based on descriptive statistics, mainly reporting frequencies, percentages, means and standard deviations as appropriate. When comparing a continuous variable, i.e. each response in the Likert scale, with a categorical variable of three or more groups (e.g. age group, teaching experience), one-way ANOVA was implemented in order to identify any statistically significant differentiation in mean scores followed by a Tukey post-hoc test. When comparing two nominal variables, the chi-square test of independence was employed. The significance level was set at 5 %. The SPSS 17 statistical software was used for the statistical analysis of the data.

3. Results

Sixty-nine mentors - 60 females (87 %) and 9 males (13 %) - participated in the current study. They are all of Greek origin, teaching in state schools and their age ranges from 31 to 51+. To be more specific, 10 of them (14,5 %) are 31-40 years old, 38 (55,1 %) are 41-50 years old, and the remaining 21 mentor-teachers are 51 and above. All teachers are holders of a Bachelor degree in English Language and Literature, thirty-one (N=31) also hold a Master’s degree in various fields such as English Language and Literature, Teaching English as Second/Foreign Language and Theoretical and Applied Linguistics. Six of the mentor teachers are Ph.D. holders and two hold another Bachelor degree. As far as their overall teaching experience is concerned, this ranges from 12 to 41 years while the majority of them have 20-30 years’ teaching experience. The years of experience in the Primary and the Secondary sector vary from less than 5 years to 16 and above. Regarding their current affiliation, the majority (62,3 %) work in the primary sector, whereas the rest work in the secondary sector. Lastly, the frequency of the in-service teachers’ participation in the practicum ranges from 1 time to more than 6 as it is depicted in Table 1.

Table 1 – Regularity of participation in the practicum

3.1. The impact of the practicum on the mentors’ teaching

With regard to the first research question i.e. what is the impact of a practicum on the mentors’ teaching? it is noteworthy that the mentors believe that they had detected changes in their teaching practices as a result of their participation in the practicum. Thus, 42 % of the respondents stated that they slightly changed their teaching practices, whereas 30.4 % of the teachers have quite altered their teaching. In other words, 72.4 % of mentors’ practices were averagely influenced by their participation in the practicum. At the same time, the teaching practices of 5.8 % of the respondents were changed to a large extent. However, some mentors professed that the practicum had no impact whatsoever (21.7 %).
Part A and Part B of the questionnaire addressed the mentor-teachers’ change after their participation in the practicum program in terms of the key elements of a language classroom (Table 2). The results reveal that the mentoring process influences teachers’ time management in class, their lesson planning, the design of activities, their teaching methodologies, their perception of group work, vocabulary teaching, the beginnings and endings of the lessons, the provision of feedback, the attempts made to motivate the students, their authoritative role in class, their organizational skills, and the review and evaluation of their lessons.

Table 2 - Teaching parameters informed by the mentor-teachers’ participation in the practicum

The influence of the mentoring on the aforementioned parameters of teaching has resulted in a change of the reviewing process that mentor-teachers follow. The participation in the teaching practice program triggered mentor-teachers to reflect more on the way their lessons unfold. Particularly, 30.4 % moderately changed the way they evaluate and review their lessons. Similarly, the practicum had a major influence on some mentor-teachers (24.6 %), as they modified to a very large extent their perceptions on how their lessons are conducted and how they should be evaluated. Besides, 18 of the in-service teachers were influenced at least to a small extent regarding self-reflection on some aspects of teaching. As a rule, even though very few mentor-teachers claim that their involvement in the practicum had no obvious impact on them (18.9 %), 81.1 % of the participants changed the way they review their lessons ranging from a small extent to a large extent.
All things considered, the teaching practice has brought a considerable influence on the majority of the mentors regarding their teaching ranging from a small extent to a large extent. As expected, this resulted in their adoption of teaching practices implemented by student teachers, which is going to be thoroughly discussed in the next subsection.

3.2. The impact of the practicum on the mentors’ practices

With regard to research question 2, the impact of the mentoring process on the in-service teachers can also be examined by the spectrum of the lesson enhancement through the adoption of practices implemented by student teachers.
More than half of the in-service teachers (52.2 %) admitted that they have adopted some practices or activities they had observed in their mentees’ lessons, in contrast to 47.8 % of them who answered negatively to this question. Delving more into this practical issue, the results suggest that in-service teachers tend to adopt a variety of teaching practices as implemented by mentees. Student teachers mainly function as a source of inspiration and information for their mentors regarding the implementation of electronic material or activities in class. Besides, the technique of using English all the time by the student teachers urged mentors to embrace it in their own classes as well. In conclusion, kinesthetic activities, brainstorming and group work were the main activities that were adopted by the majority of the mentors. To the contrary, quizzes, children’s newspapers and magazines, the teaching of accents and phonics were the least favorable by the mentor-teachers to be adopted and implemented (Graph 1).

Graph 1 - Visual representation of percentages of the student teachers’ practices adopted by the mentors

3.3. The factors affecting the practicum’s impact on the mentor-teachers

In order to address the third research question, the variables of age, years of teaching experience, affiliation, and the times of participation in the practicum program have been examined. Based on the statistical analyses (i.e. the chi-square test of independence and the one-way ANOVA), no statistically significant difference was observed between any possible change that mentor-teachers may experience due to their participation in the practicum and the aforementioned factors except for the affiliation factor. It seems that affiliation seems to play a role when evaluating and reviewing their own lesson (Table 3). More precisely, a significant difference arose in the case of the mentor-teachers who teach in the primary sector and tend to evaluate and review their lessons far more to a small extent as compared to the mentors teaching in the secondary sector.

Table 3 - Evaluating and reviewing the lesson depending on affiliation

3.4. Analyzing the impact of the practicum on the teaching profession

Overall, the mentoring procedure has a predominant influence on in-service teachers in terms of their teaching as a profession and their practices. Firstly, 59.4 % of the mentor-teachers highlighted that their zeal to teach has intensified due to their participation in the mentoring program. More precisely, 25 of the participants (36.2 %) and 16 of them (23.2 %) agreed or strongly agreed respectively with the statement “My enthusiasm about teaching has increased”. Secondly, their cooperation with the student teachers prompted them to identify the strengths and weaknesses of their own teaching. Twenty-nine of the respondents (42.0 %) agreed with the statement about their reflection process of identifying their positive and negative attributes, while 10 of them (14.5 %) strongly agreed with it. Thirdly, the mentoring process became the driving force in inspiring mentor-teachers in terms of impelling them towards their professional and personal development. Accordingly, in response to the statement “I feel that this mentoring has inspired me and my work”, 29 and 23 mentor-teachers agreed or strongly agreed respectively with it. Finally, the practices of 56.5 % of the respondents have been enhanced as 39 out of 69 mentor-teachers agreed or strongly agreed with the fact that they had been exposed to new teaching perspectives via their participation in the teaching practice program. Nonetheless, a rather considerable percentage (18.8 %-33.3 %) of the mentor-teachers adopted a neutral stance towards these statements appearing thus inconclusive about the impact of the practicum on their subsequent teaching practices.
The impact of mentoring on in-service teachers’ profession is prevalent in the open-ended questions of the questionnaire. Thirty-three of the participants (47.8 %) admitted that through the mentoring process, they got exposed to modern teaching methodologies, they had adopted or thought of adopting innovative teaching materials, and as a result they evaluated and reflected on their teaching. Most importantly, they acknowledged that they felt motivated and inspired as they had the chance to observe another person’s teaching and thus to view themselves as teachers from a different angle. The most compelling evidence of the positive impact of mentoring on teachers lies in the mentors’ realization of their development. Specifically, one mentor-teacher mentioned, “I observed some of my teaching practices in the first years of teaching and this made me think about my development as a teacher as well as the improvements I have made since then”.
On the other hand, 19 mentor-teachers (27.5 %) believed that the mentoring process had no impact on them in terms of their teaching techniques. More specifically, they argued that they did not adopt any of the student teachers’ practices as they had already been implementing them. Another possible explanation can be, based on the mentors’ answers, that the student teachers followed a rather traditional way of teaching which lacked creativity. Additionally, one mentor pointed out that “the student teachers tried to use new methods without much success, so I obviously would not adopt them”, reflecting their reluctance to adopt new teaching techniques due to student teachers’ inexperience to apply particular practices in the language classroom. This may reasonably lead mentor-teachers to not embrace any technique or method.
24.6 % of the mentors opted not to express any kind of opinion on the impact of mentoring on them. 17 of them merely highlighted a positive predisposition towards the practicum program. In brief, the majority of the mentor-teachers were positive towards the influence experienced by their collaboration with the young prospective teachers. This influence in terms of the key elements of a language class will be thoroughly discussed in the next subsection.

4. Discussion

The teaching practice programs dedicated to the student teachers along with the mentoring programs established for the in-service teachers have proliferated over the past two decades providing a broader perspective on the teaching profession for both members of this dyadic relationship (Hanson & Moir, 2008). A segregation of the mentee over the mentor has generated an abundance of surveys scrutinizing the impact of the practicum and the benefits gained by the former. Very few studies (e.g. Liu et al., 2015) have approached the matter from a practical perspective examining mentors’ benefits in terms of their teaching amelioration and an even smaller number of studies have meticulously scrutinized the various aspects of mentors’ teaching that have been affected or enhanced due to their participation in a mentoring program (e.g. McCorkel Clinard & Ariav, 1998).
Similar to the results of previous studies (Bresnahan, 2011; Goodnough, Osmond, Dibbon, Glassman, & Stevens, 2009; Hanson & Moir, 2008; Huling & Resta, 2001; Liu et al., 2015; Mathur, Gehrke, & Kim, 2012; McCorkel Clinard & Ariav, 1998; Ramaswami & Dreher, 2007), the results of the present study brought to light that by participating in a practicum, mentor-teachers enhance their skills of time management, lesson planning, design of materials, teaching methodologies, group-work activities, vocabulary teaching, the start and end of the lessons, the provision of feedback, the attempts made to motivate the students, their authoritative role in class, the review and evaluation of their lessons, their organizational skills, technology integration in class. As far as practices and activities are concerned, mentor-teachers expanded their teaching repertoire with new and a great variety of activities and techniques.
The benefits associated with involvement in a practicum culminate in a change of the teaching practices followed by the majority of the teachers participating in the mentoring program examined in the current survey. In reality, this change is not ubiquitous. In-service teachers who do not experience any change or benefit may not show signs of open-mindedness to admit any kind of impact as Bozionelos (2004) suggested, or they may be not willing to change. Feiman-Nemser (1998) argues that this could be explained by the discrepancy imposed between the academic knowledge on teaching stemming from research and teachers’ knowledge stemming from practical experience; henceforth, in-service teachers may not accept the theoretical knowledge on teaching that student teachers bring from their University courses. Under those circumstances, mentor-teachers tend not to be prone to any change. Another possible explanation can be detected in an argument posed by Feiman-Nemser (1998) who claims that since each teacher’s idiosyncrasy and autonomy are unique, they cannot be affected by student teachers who are present in class.
Based on the findings of the present study, it can be deduced that in-service teachers experience great benefits via their participation in the practicum. Notwithstanding the strenuous and multifaceted process of change, the majority of them validate the teaching experience gained over the years, expand the attributes of their teaching career, enhance their teaching repertoire with innovative materials and strategies, question and alter their beliefs and teaching methods, become more self-reflective and knowledgeable about the integration of technology in class, create a lack of treadmill in class and establish a friendly relation with the future teachers of the challenging and everchanging field of education.

5. Conclusion

The dearth of studies regarding the impact of a practicum program on the mentor-teachers from the practical perspective of teaching has given the incentive for the present study. First and foremost, upon the completion of the mentoring program, the majority of the in-service teachers were mostly influenced in terms of their beliefs and practices. Secondly, more than half of the mentor-teachers expanded their repertoire of activities as student teachers functioned as a source of mentors’ teaching materials. Though, it is considered important to realize that the attainment of these benefits is not easily perceived by all mentor-teachers. Hardly ever does a mentor experience all of the aforementioned gains. Lastly, it was documented that the impact experienced was not influenced by factors of age group, years of experience, affiliation or the times participating in the practicum. Overall, the impact of mentoring on the in-service teachers is unequivocal as collaborating with newly trained student teachers can undoubtedly influence teachers in different ways and in different perspectives of the teaching context.

Notes

[1This paper is based on a greater study focusing on the impact of a practicum on mentor teachers practices and beliefs (Moulara, 2017).

[2This program, that was initially named as the pilot Santa Cruz New Teacher Project (SCNTP), allowed classroom teachers to be full-time mentors to novice teachers for three years (Hanson & Moir, 2008).

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