Being a PGCE mentor – supercharge your practice!

Thanks to Ben Longworth of Millthorpe School in York for this blogpost. There is a huge need for ITE mentors and Ben wants to persuade other colleagues that the mentoring role is great CPD for the mentor as well as vital for trainees. Might you volunteer to be an ITE mentor at your school next year?

“And we’d like you to be the PGCE mentor for next year, if that’s alright?”

Gulp!

When my Head of Department asked me to be a PGCE mentor, my reaction was one of surprise, pride, but mostly nervous apprehension. I had only just completed my second year in the profession. As an early career teacher, did I really have the requisite experience and knowledge to be a PGCE mentor?

I needn’t have worried. The support provided by the partnership team running the PGCE was superb and gave me the knowledge and understanding to carry out the role with confidence. CPD sessions were held in person (remember that?!) and explained everything with crystal clarity; useful documents were supplied, and extensive support materials were available on the website. I was equipped with both the practical detail I needed to conduct the role and also a wider understanding of the aims and objectives of the PGCE course so that I could understand how the placement mentor (“I”) was part of the whole course. This effectively allayed my fears and gave me confidence in what I had to do and how to do it, while also allowing me to discuss ideas and strategies with other mentors (including old colleagues and PGCE alumni). When my first ITE trainees arrived, I felt excited and eager to start helping them develop as new teachers. 

The trainees I have had the pleasure to mentor in the three years since then have been dedicated and eager to learn, responding well to advice and feedback from myself and the other teachers, while also demonstrating great resilience whenever they had a ‘wobble’. I am also lucky to have an experienced and supportive department who help to provide useful feedback and advice to the trainees, giving them with a growing arsenal of techniques and strategies and a growing sense of what it means to be part of a professional team. This is important! While I am primarily responsible for the ITE trainees in our department, I am not on my own and they are made to feel part of the whole department. We have a small departmental base and they are very much a part of the ups and downs of each day and each week. It is a great pleasure to see the trainees develop and grow in confidence, and to see them flourish in the classroom and beyond.

Having trainees is also hugely beneficial to the department, as they are a great way to tap in to the latest developments in the world of history teaching. They are newly-versed in the latest developments of pedagogy and history teaching knowledge, which helps us as a department to keep our finger on the pulse of what is new in history teaching, so our lessons remain fresh and updated. They have also studied history more recently than we have. They are able to challenge us when our historical knowledge is dated and to suggest historical scholarship that we can connect to in order to make sure that history remains a vibrant subject for our pupils. The trainees we have had have consistently provided a great repository of new ideas and suggestions, contributing to the curriculum redevelopment which we are constantly undertaking. 

Being a mentor also helps me to develop my own practice hugely. Taking part in the PGCE shared trainee-mentor reading tasks is extremely useful in maintaining and developing my own pedagogical knowledge. Not only do I have to get around to reading/watching/listening to things that might never otherwise make it to the top of my ‘to do’ list, I also find talking about a focused aspect of history teaching with a new colleague makes me think more deeply about the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ of my own practice. Likewise, observing my trainees in action (and being observed by them) has pushed me to be more analytical and demanding of my own ways of doing things. And on top of that, our partnership subject specific mentor meetings include free history CPD in school time – cover paid!

I had worried that being an early career teacher might have been a hindrance to being a good mentor. In fact it I think it has helped me to empathise more readily with the trainees. My experience of their PGCE struggle was still fresh in my memory, my pedagogical textbooks were still available for them to leaf through, while my voluminous files were still there on my shelf for them to peruse. Rather than being a problem, my recent qualification meant I was well-placed to help guide them through their training. Mentoring for trainees has really pushed me to make sure my practice is exemplary, and to analyse deeply what works and what doesn’t, and why. It has helped me to reflect on what I learnt in my ITE year, but from the different vantage point of a classroom history teacher with a few years’ experience. Mentoring has ‘super-charged’ my practice and I believe it has helped me to develop much more quickly than I would have done if I had not had the opportunity to be a mentor. I urge you to give it a go if you get the chance!

Search “mentor” on the HA website for lots of subject specific support for your mentoring. You can also draw on the ‘Beginning Teacher’ part of the HA website to support your mentees.

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