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The Mentor-Student Teacher Relationship: Finding Common Ground
Maximize your mentor-student teacher relationship to learn different teaching styles and techniques.
I will never forget the amazing experience I had during my first placement as a student teacher. It was in an urban low-income school district, and the teacher I worked with was extremely inspirational. She eased me into the classroom and taught me things I still use today. She took the time to reflect on my teaching and provide great feedback. I really valued my time in her class.
I wasn't so lucky with my second placement. Although it was in a nice suburban school district, the teacher I was assigned to couldn't have been any less of a mentor. I was in constant fear that I was doing something wrong because she always compared me to her previous student teacher. Plus, she only gave me negative feedback, which made me feel like such a failure. As a prospective teacher, all I wanted was an experience that benefited the both of us.
After two very different situations, I've learned a few tricks to help teachers and student teachers work as a team. Here's what you should know.
Find Your Shared Rhythm for Teaching
One of the best things my first mentor did was to ease me into the teaching process. Prospective teachers vary in terms of previous teaching experience and education—some may feel more comfortable diving right in while others will easily feel like they're being thrown to the sharks. It's wise to have a conversation before your experience even starts to see what the best approach is for you. For me, gradually easing my way into the experience one subject at a time was what made me feel the most comfortable. My confidence started to build gradually each day, which eventually made me eager to take on more subjects.
Be Equally Involved in the Classroom
This is a shared experience, so mentors shouldn't just show prospective teachers what it takes to plan and grade a lesson; they should also make them part of the overall process. With my first placement, I was included in everything my mentor did. From getting to school early and staying late to prepare lessons, to bus duty and parent-teacher meetings, I was right there by her side. The more I was exposed to, the more experience and knowledge I gained. I was able to learn how to effectively talk to parents, prep for lessons, and even find my way around the faculty room.
Make the Most of Feedback
Whether you're both new to this arrangement or not, create an environment where you're comfortable offering both positive and negative feedback (mentors need to know how they're doing too). The more feedback you give, the more you'll both learn about yourselves and what kind of teacher you are or can be. Whatever you do, don't just offer feedback on things you didn't like; that's discouraging. Feedback should be constructive. Try the sandwich technique, where you layer a positive comment with a "what needs improvement" comment, followed by another positive comment. Maybe if my second mentor teacher had done that for me, I would have had a more pleasurable experience.
Treat Each Other as Colleagues
Even though one of you is much more experienced, you still need to treat each another like you would treat any other colleague. Your students need to see that you're a united front so that they treat you both with respect. By developing a collegial relationship that's based on respect, you'll make your time with one another unforgettable—in a good way.
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The mentor-student teacher relationship is an important one. And while my student-teaching experiences truly shaped me into the educator I am today, I wouldn't want any prospective teacher to be treated the way I was during my second placement. So keep these tips in mind and invest the time into a building a positive relationship with one another, and you'll both have the experience of a lifetime.