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Review of  Mentor Development in the Education of Modern Language Teachers


Reviewer: Nadia P. Economou
Book Title: Mentor Development in the Education of Modern Language Teachers
Book Author: Sorry, No Book Author Data Available!
Publisher: Multilingual Matters
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Book Announcement: 13.525

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Review:

Gray, Carol (2001) Mentor Development in the Education of
Modern Language Teachers. Multilingual Matters, vi+234pp,
paperback ISBN 1-85359-551-9, US$19.95, Modern Languages
in Practice, Volume 18

Nadia Economou, Institute for Language and Speech Processing

There have been quite a few books on mentors in the last
decade or so, written either by university tutors or
teacher mentors themselves; they range from theoretical
treatises to more practical handbooks. A lot of them are
addressing exclusively the topic of mentoring in the
education of modern language teachers; the book Mentor
Development in the Education of Modern Language Teachers
falls within this category. It is written by a university
tutor having almost a decade of experience in this post
at the University of Birmingham.

OVERVIEW

Introduction: or Why Another Book on Mentoring
In the introductory chapter, Gray attempts to convince
the readers that they need another book on mentoring, not
written by a teacher mentor. Starting with the second
observation, it is obvious that teacher mentors share
with the teacher students the experience of working in
the schools, facing the same interests and problems.
However, the quality of support and guidance they provide
their students with depends upon the universities
responsible for training. As the author suggests, "Higher
education tutors on England therefore have a very deep
personal as well as professional interest in
understanding and improving school-based mentoring for
the student teachers whom they recruit" (p. 2). As for
the first question, why another book on mentoring, the
author invokes her experience in the post, her work in
the university and its partner schools as well as her
involvement in workshops and relevant postgraduate
degrees. The introductory chapter continues with an
overview of the book and some terminological
clarifications.

Part I. The Context
1.1. A Local and National Context with International
Implications
The author observes that education has recently become a
political instrument; governments all over the world seek
to exercise more and more control upon teacher and
student education. Within this highly complicated
context, we need to answer the following questions:
-What do teachers need to know?
-How can they best learn what they need to know?
-Where can they best learn what they need to know? (p. 12)
The answer is hidden somewhere between "theory" and
"practice", the first usually associated with university
training and the second with dealing with the
perplexities of school life. One way to restore the
balance is to recruit mentors, busy school teachers who
take up the responsibility of teacher training in
schools. A "bad" mentor can lead a student teacher to
failure, the same way a pupil fails a language exam
because of a "bad" teacher.
The demanding role of a teacher mentor affiliated with a
college or university is the result of recent reforms of
the English, Welsh and Scottish education systems. Gray
describes a situation of important governmental
intervention in teacher training leading to discrepancies
among teachers within the U.K, fragile relationships
between schools and universities and ... chaos! From this
chaos emerges the mentor. Seeking an answer to the
question "what is mentoring?" based on his/her classroom
expertise and contextual knowledge. S/he has to negotiate
his/her responsibilities with the university tutor and
his/her student teachers at the same time.

2.2. Proving Feedback
This chapter seeks to explore issues concerning the goal
of educators of language teachers. The author cites the
official criteria or standards for the qualified
teachers; these are regularly revised and rewritten so as
to become manageable course aims for student teachers
entering the field and mentors.
As far as modern language learning is concerned,
according to the National Curriculum, prospect teachers
need to develop certain types of methodology based on a
communicative approach; pupils are expected to avoid
using English as far as possible and respond in the
target language instead. Being a good language teacher,
however, seems to extend beyond methodology stated in the
official documents; the "good" teacher is effective,
collects the merits of different teaching styles, takes
into consideration the circumstances involved, produces
good outcomes, is imaginative, uses explanation and
example, interacts well with the pupils etc. etc. etc.
Moving on to language teachers, Gray offers a list of
qualifications deriving from workshops with mentors; the
list comprises cultural knowledge, language expertise,
classroom behaviour and personality characteristics. It
is followed by a list of factors-reasons for student
teachers failing their university course; in other words,
characteristics of "bad" teachers. Most teachers share
characteristics of the two lists and one way of becoming
a good teacher is reaching sufficient understanding of
the complexity of teaching.

1.3. Learning to Be a Language Teacher
Understanding the learning process is the first step
towards learning to be a teacher. Student teachers
describe their experience as "shocking", if not
"devastating". The first part of the process is certainly
theory. It tends to be interpreted as lectures upon
unrealistic theories of teaching and learning given by
academics and researchers. Theory is wrongly opposed to
practice; according to Gray, "Theory is not a contrast to
practice: it is the result of the thinking of many
committed minds about that practice and in its personal
interpretation is the fundamental basis for individual
practice. It is, therefore, relative and personal ... " (p.
44). Pure theorising will not help student teachers to
develop their practical skills; this means acquiring
strategies and tips together with understanding and
judgement about when and how to employ them. Mentors in
schools can work towards filling in the gap between
theory and practice; they need to deal with everyday
practicalities of the teaching situation and help their
students develop theoretical understandings at the same
time.
To achieve this blending of theory and practice, the
student teachers need a flexible programme that provides
them with practical solutions and deals with emergency
situations, as well as discussion of the rationale behind
them when the programme allows them. Theory and practice
should formulate a circle within which the student
teacher becomes an independent learner.

1.4. The Intuitively Theoretical Mentor
In this chapter, Gray delineates the role of mentors in
schools; among other things, mentors are expected to
observe student teachers in their classes, negotiate
their priorities and practice, discuss aspects of their
teaching and, last but not least, assess their progress
against established criteria. Counselling skills,
sensitivity and empathy are some of the qualities of a
good mentor. Gray provides quite extensive quotations of
different authors in order to draw the portrait of a
school mentor. After all, as she explains herself on p.
59, the rest of the book is devoted to illustrate with
examples the theoretical points made in the first part of
the book.
Contrary to teachers working with school-age pupils,
mentors are dealing with adults, with establishes
personalities and preconceived ideas about what teaching
is; part of their job is to help them to stand on their
own feet, think for themselves and react to real
situations. Modern language teaching, in particular,
requires that the student learners are sensitised to
cultural issues, different customs and ways of thinking.
The chapter ends with a list of the tasks of the mentor.

Part 2: Developing Pedagogical Content Knowledge in
Mentoring
Moving from theory to practice, Parts 2 and 3 discuss
cases serving as examples of modern language mentoring.
Part 2 derives from the experience of mentors working
within the University of Birmingham PGCE Partnership.

2.1. Keeping Pace with Development Through the Weekly
Meetings by Dave Jenkins
Jenkins discusses the importance of the weekly meetings
between the student teacher and the mentor. The official
meetings are an opportunity for the participants to
review classes and prepare for the following week. Points
raised in this chapter are the importance of
collaborative teaching, lesson planning, supervised
teaching etc.

2.2. Providing Feedback by Dave Jenkins
This chapter is a case study of a particular student
teacher working with the mentor for a year, concentrating
on the issue of setting targets and providing feedback.
The author provides examples of his notes from his
observations and the issues emerging for discussion in
the weekly meetings. The student teacher is praised and,
at the same time, guided towards future action, supported
and challenged if necessary. Alternative styles of
feedback and their effectiveness are also discussed.

2.3. Towards Departmental Consistency of Good Practice in
Observing Student Teacher Lessons by Elaine Salmon
Being the head of the Department, the author had to deal
with inconsistencies of approaches to observation and
feedback; the chapter discusses the procedures followed,
like having meetings, developing a programme to be
covered with the mentor week by week, deciding on the
style of observation and feedback. Examples of four
teachers are presented in some length. The author
concludes by stating the importance of setting targets in
order to improve current practice.

2.4. Focusing on the Learner by Inge Johnson
The author maintains that what is really important is
what pupils learn rather than how teachers perform;
student teachers, however, are so involved with their
"performance" that they cannot distance themselves enough
and focus on the performance of their pupils. In this
chapter, the author outlines a project that s/he has
undertaken in collaboration with the student teachers to
shift their focus towards pupils' learning. Video
recordings were collected and discussed in an attempt to
make the student teacher an observer of his/her own,
his/her fellow students' and mentors' practice.

2.5. Good Teachers Can Wear Turquoise Socks or When Good
Mentoring in Simply Not Enough by Carmen D'Arcy
This chapter illustrates the example of a case of failure
on the part of a mentor to work with a student teacher.
The author describes her indignation and distress that
her attempts to inspire responsibility to a mentee were
deemed to failure. This example illustrates the point
that a good teacher may not be born "good", but there are
times that a bad teacher is born "bad".

Part 3: Mentors in Action
The focus of Part 3 is once again on the role of
mentoring and the ways mentors understand it. It is based
upon interviews with mentors and student teachers on
their relationships; the transcripts were collected
during the Spring Terms of 1996 and 1997 by the Research
Teach of the University of Birmingham.

3.1. Reassuring the Student Teacher That Everyone
Experiences Difficulties
>From the case discussed in this chapter emerges a
reactive approach of the mentor to the student teacher's
development; the latter is preoccupied more with managing
the behaviour of the class and collecting homework than
with the quality of the pupils' learning. The chapter
concludes that in this case, it is the mentor who needs
guidance so as to become more proactive in his/her
attitude towards the student teacher.

3.2. Being There
In this chapter, the author critically presents the case
of a mentor who is supportive and encouraging but pays
little attention to the "why" questions; in other words,
he is not concerned with the reasoning behind his student
teachers' teaching strategies before challenging and
redirecting them.

3.3. Reflective Practice and Collaboration
The main issue emerging from the case discussed is the
way a mentor can handle the needs of two student teachers
at the same time. Being two personalities with different
abilities and needs, they understand, appreciate and
benefit from the feedback in different ways.

3.4. Probing Theories in Practice
In a similar to the above case, the mentor decided to
hold separate meetings to cope with two students who,
although faced with similar experiences, have different
perceptions of the situation.

3.5. A Tutor in Action
Another case of a mentor probing student teachers'
thought processes and challenging their reasoning.

Part 4: Towards a Better Future?
4.1. Towards a Better Future?
As the Minister for Schools, E. Morris pointed out in
1997, the problem with the National Curriculum is that it
looks very dry (p. 213). This is true for all official
documents delineating policies; they cannot dictate or
incorporate in them the need for personal development and
fulfillment are expected of the good educators. In the
final chapter of her book, Gray develops further her
point made in the introduction; what the system needs is
good educators (educated educators) and not just trained
trainers.

CRITICAL EVALUATION

Overall, the book is about improving modern language
teaching within the English education system. As it
emerges from the first part of the book, it seems that
recent reforms brought confusion about the role of
Universities and school based mentors undertaking the
preparation and guidance of student teachers. As a
result, all parties involved need to negotiate their
status and obligations.
The target group of the book is mentors; this is evident
in the final section of each chapter entitled "Thinking
About Your Own Practice" where the author makes
suggestions or provides questions to guide readers to
reflect upon their own practice. Through the pages of
this book, the readers can look for examples of good
practice, mistakes to avoid, speculations, issues for
discussion. Some of the chapters in Part 2 are too
anecdotal; they could have been omitted without feeling
as readers that we've missed something important. Having
another book on the same topic ("mentoring") is not of
course a breakthrough to theory; the practical sections
are more enlightening and enjoyable (especially Part 3).
Finally, I do not share the opinion that the English (not
even British) education setting can have important global
implications. Modern language teaching and teacher
training are so dependent upon governmental policies,
local and cultural particularities that any suggestions
made can serve more as prompts for reflection than direct
guidance for those working in different settings.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Nadia Economou holds a Ph.D. in Educational Linguistics
from the University of Lancaster, U.K. She has taught
courses in General Linguistics and Discourse Analysis in
private institutions in Greece. She is currently working
as senior researcher in the Division of Educational
Technology at the Institute for Language and Speech
Processing (ILSP).


 
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