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JTE Author Interview: Understanding the Work of Mentor Teachers

Check out a recent JTE Insider blog interview by the Journal of Teacher Education (JTE) editorial team. This blog is available to the public, and AACTE members have free access to the articles in the JTE online archives—just log in with your AACTE profile.

This interview features insights from Rachel Roegman and Joni S. Kolman, co-authors of the JTE article “Cascading, Colliding, and Mediating: How Teacher Preparation and K-12 Education Contexts Influence Mentor Teachers’ Work.” You may read the full article in the January/February 2020 issue of JTE.

Article Abstract: In this conceptual article, we present a theoretical framework designed to illustrate the many contexts and factors that interact and shape the work of mentor teachers. Drawing on the literature on K-12 teaching and on teacher preparation, we argue for greater acknowledgment of the complex work of mentor teachers as they navigate multiple contexts. We conclude by considering how this framework helps us to better understand the work of mentor teachers and by offering suggestions for teacher preparation programs and K-12 schools to better support mentor teachers and best prepare teacher candidates.

What motivated you to pursue this particular research topic?

Our interest in mentor teachers’ navigation of their work with teacher candidates was an outgrowth of some of our previous work on the role of context in teacher candidate learning (Context as Mediator: Teaching Residents’ Opportunity and Learning in High-need Urban Schools; Teaching Education, 2015) and mentor teachers’ learner-centered approaches (Learner-centered mentoring: Building from Student Teachers’ Individual Needs and Experiences as Novice Practitioners; Teacher Education Quarterly, 2017). What consistently emerged, and we had yet to fully describe in our previous writing (both with A. Lin Goodwin), was how mentor teachers are navigating the pressures asserted by two different contexts—teacher preparation and K-12 education—as they work with teacher candidates. Drawing on examples culled from working with candidates and our other research in teacher education, we aimed to illustrate the complexity of mentoring preservice teachers.

What were some difficulties you encountered with the research?

We went through numerous iterations of the visuals in this paper as we attempted to show the relationship between the two contexts, as well as between the different systems within each context. We had to make decisions about how we would show their intersection as well as how we would label each of the systems. We also had many discussions around how to illustrate the movements we describe—cascading, colliding, and mediating—within a stagnant visual. We aimed to have the visuals stand on their own and also align with the tenets of systems and complexity theories on which we built.

Writing, by necessity, requires leaving certain things on the cutting room floor. What didn’t make it into the article that you want to talk about?

There were so many interesting pressures, demands, and examples that were surfaced through our work that we could not include. For example, we had initially discussed the concept of time—mentors not having enough time to talk about everything that was needed, candidates not having enough time to complete all of the requirements, and time management—and how it might work as one of the movement exemplars in our paper. However, despite its salience to mentor teachers’ work, it did not ultimately fit into our final paper because of the ways in which the labeling and conceptualizing of the different systems shifted over time.

What current areas of research are you pursuing?

Together, we are two of four authors on a literature review that examines teacher and principal candidates’ learning about race and racial inequity in/through preparation programs. Through this work, we aim to highlight shared tensions within preparation and contribute to conversations around the challenges and opportunities for equipping school-based practitioners to engage in shared anti-racist practice.

Connected to ecological systems theory and questions of how contexts matter, Rachel’s current work examines the roles of context in equity-focused educational leadership. Although equity is a term with many definitions, she uses the term “equity-focused” expansively to describe K-12 leaders who are committed to making schools better places for youth who historically and systematically have been denied equitable educational experiences. Her recent book, Equity Visits: A New Approach to Supporting Equity-Focused School and District Leadership was published in 2020 by Corwin Press.

Joni is pursuing a line of research around how teacher educators, with a stated commitment to diversity and equity, address hate and white supremacy with teacher candidates. One component of this work specifically examines practices and discourses related to antisemitism within the equity-oriented preparation curriculum. Several initial findings from this study will be presented at the AERA 2020 conference in San Francisco.

What advice would you give to new scholars in teacher education?

Our first piece of advice is to find critical colleagues who will support you and push you when you are grappling with your writing. Do not feel tethered just to those who research exactly what you are interested in: find individuals outside of your direct field and you can push each other’s work. Our writing partnership has been supported by our cross-field collaboration. Rachel is a faculty member in educational leadership, and Joni is a faculty member in teacher education; we have both conducted research in different settings and push each other to think about similar ideas in different ways.

Our second piece of advice is to think about how your interests situate you within the conversations that are happening in teacher education. It is not about being right or wrong, or critiquing what has already been done, but engaging in conversation around critical ideas. Relatedly, remember that there is room for everyone to contribute meaningfully to these conversations—there is not a finite amount of insight or experience—we can all be great scholars.

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