It goes without saying, if you want the best, use the best. If a cake is only as good as its ingredients, then it should be an undebatable truism that trainee teachers should be placed with the best mentors. Recent studies by the Brookings Institute, a think tank, show that of all the factors that affect the quality of teacher training, placements with effective mentors generate the biggest returns.
According to one of their studies, there was a positive correlation between the performance of the students later taught by the trainee teacher, and the performance of the students taught by the mentor teacher. Essentially the highest performing teachers make for the best mentors.
Several studies have confimed the importance of being assigned to a mentor who is highly effectiveThe Brookings Institute
The studies also found that the effectiveness of the individual mentor is a more important factor than the effectiveness of the school as a whole i.e. placing trainee teachers in high-performing schools is not enough. This is because not all teachers in a high-performing school are themselves high-performing in the classroom, they may possess other skills such as effective management or pastoral care.
But why is this even a conversation, surely this should be the standard practice? Unfortunately, it is not, the highest performing teachers are not always providing mentorship. An effective teacher has to want to mentor a trainee but not all have the desire or personality to provide such guidance. It is possible that this is the result of a disillusionment borne of frustrations with other parts of the education system as well as the fact that there is little financial incentive to becoming a mentor. It would be interesting to investigate whether there is a negative correlation between the effectiveness of a teacher and the number of hours they have spent providing mentoring over the last year. The onerous administrative requirements of the profession may mean that it is not feasible to maintain such high performance standards while allocating time to developing others. Perhaps it is a catch-22 – teachers are most effective when they spend the most amount of time on the development and delivery of lessons. Taking them away from such activity to train new recruits would reduce their effectiveness and make them paradoxically less suitable mentors.
My background is in the City, where I trained as a corporate lawyer. I would argue that in that industry there was a correlation between the most successful lawyers and those least invested in the health of the department more generally. This was not only tolerated but encouraged. These lawyers were often ring-fenced – they billed the most hours and retained the most clients thus providing the best value for money for the firm. Training was a thankless task and those who invested in it were punished with reviews dominated by haranguing over their reduced billable hours. Trainee development had no capital in annual reviews.
However, there is one best practice that I think should translate more consistently from the City into the classroom. Having a trainee was a pre-requisite for promotion from a mid-level associate to a senior associate. This meant that having a trainee was seen as a reward for hard work and a sign of the firm’s confidence in you. Unfortunately, there was one fatal flaw in the system. Being required to have a trainee and actually training them were not one and the same thing. There was honour in having the trainee but no reward in training them. In fact, there was no system through which to evaluate the effectiveness of the supervision provided as trainees were not asked to evaluate their supervisors and the skill-set of a lawyer is so nebulous with few quantifiable deliverables (no exam results to track) that attempts to measure the improved performance of one’s trainee was tantamount to a foray into the dark arts.
Nonetheless, the premise was a sound one – to advance you must show a commitment to the next generation. Supervision must more consistently be a prerequisite to advancement in teaching, but not just supervision, effective supervision. There should be prestige in supervision, a prestige that would be greatly helped by giving it a more prominent place in the evaluation system and confirming its value by adequately rewarding those who do it.
Effective subject teachers are the lifeblood of the profession, their value should be acknowledged and well-compensated to incentivise more of them to share their unique skills with the next generation.