Creative Education
2012. Vol.3, No.4, 413-421
Published Online August 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 413
The Many Faces of Mentor-Mentee Relationships
in a Pre-Service Teacher Education Programme
Shosh Leshem
Oranim Academic College of E d u c a t i o n , Tivon, Isr a e l
Received May 5th, 2012; revised June 10th, 2012; accepted June 20th, 2012
Different schools of thoughts concerning the conceptualization of the role of the mentor point at different
dimensions within the role. It is suggested that assumptions and beliefs about the nature of teaching and
learning provide the rationale for the mentors’ approaches. The notion of idiosyncrasy of mentoring and
the complexity of the mentor-mentee relationship has challenged the study of 15 pairs of student teachers
and their mentors’ perceptions on the role of the mentor. The study also identifies types of relationships
that transpire within pairs. The study was conducted in a pre-service teachers’ programme in a teacher
education college in Israel. Findings indicate that there is no great dispute between mentors and mentees
on the mentoring role. However, the types of relationships that have been identified highlight the com-
plexities that mentorship entails and arouse critical questions concerning the benefits of the mentoring
process. It has been concluded that mentoring is a dynamic non-linear process which requires mentors and
mentees to adapt to contextual situations. It is suggested that more attention must be given to preparing
students and mentors for their roles in the practicum.
Keywords: Mentoring Relationships; Practicum; Teacher Education
The Complexity of Student-Mentor Relationship
The mentoring process in the practicum of student teachers
constitutes a critical factor in their professional development.
Student teachers view the process in their practice teaching as
the best way to acquire professional knowledge and competence
as a teacher (Hascher, Coc ard, & Moser, 2004; He, 2010 ). It also
serves as a protected opportunity for experimentation and so-
cialization within the profession (Hascher et al., 2010). Hawkey
(1997) contends that mentoring is idiosyncratic in the sense that
mentors and student teachers bring into the mentoring process a
diversity of beliefs and concerns that lead to complex interac-
tions and complicated dynamics. Wang (2001) extends this view
and indicates that the different perceptions can affect the rela-
tionship and the learning process that develops for both mentor
and student by influencing how they communicate and what
advice is given. I n th e same vein , differen t conceptualizations of
teaching imply different views of the processes of learning to
teach and a different vision of t he role of the mentor (Maynard &
Furlong, 1993). Young et al. (2005) conclude that mentoring
could be seen as perplexing and challenging due to contradic-
tions in th e way it i s described by differen t mentoring studi es and
the actors involved in the mentoring process. In a recent study
analyzing mentors’ needs from 12 European countries the data
reflect a high range of perspectives partly due to the diversity of
educational systems in which they are embedded (Jones, 2009).
The idiosyncrasy of mentoring and the fact that no generaliza-
tions can be made, might lead practit ioners to the conclusion that
“anything goes” (Cain, 2009). This mind-set might affect the
quality of mentoring.
Maynard and Furlong further maintain that personal factors
have an influence on the formatio n of students’ co ncepts, beliefs
and expectations about th e natur e of teaching and learni ng. If th e
role of the teacher may be viewed as “inappropriate” or “sim-
plistic”, then, they argue, they will need a ment o r to “gu i de their
seeing” so that they may adjust or redefine their concepts.
However, mentors themselves bring their own perspective to
bear in their work as mentors. According to Elliot and Calder-
head (1993: p. 179) “assumptions about the very nature of
teaching and how learning occurs provide part of the rationale
for the mentors' approaches”. They claim that having predeter-
mined conceptions about the mentoring role would affect the
way they enact it. It is also suggested that mentoring is a con-
textualized practice shaped by culture, curriculum, and teaching
organization (Hiebert, Gallimore, & Stigler 2002; Jones, 2009).
Furthermore, some student teachers report on negative experi-
ences when they perceive their mentor as having dissimilar
attitudes beliefs and values from their own (Eby et al., 2000). It
is suggested therefore that mentors need to be informed about
the needs of thei r men tees in order to est ablish an effec tiv e m en-
toring relationship (Iancu-Haddad & Oplatka, 2009). Russell
and Russell (2011) quoting Tauer (2002) support this notion and
state that the most successful mentoring relationships are based
on shared values, goals and understandings and in order to un-
derstand the dynamics of mentoring, it is useful to gain the
mentor’s perspective on the mentoring relationship. Thus the
perceptual gaps under which mentoring and learning to teach
take place are complex.
The impetus for this study emerged out of mixed voices of
student teachers in a teacher education college, who expressed
their concerns in random meetings that I had with them about
their experiences in the mentoring process.
Two of these voices are Lisa and Iris who were in their se cond
year of practice teaching, each in a secondary school context.
Lisa’s voice:
Feedback is very important but we need to speak the same
language”, I mean, we should have similar beliefs to avoid
conflicts. We had disagreements concerning the lessons that I
taught. She did not accept my views which were against hers. I
personally think pupils shou ld be exposed to contradictory views,
they should know everything and not only things that are in line
with the teachers beliefs. I will teach differently when I become
a teacher but we agreed not to get into conflicts over it.
Lisa believes that the mentor student relationship should be
strongly based on “similar beliefs” in order to avoid conflicts.
Lisa articulates her own beliefs about how pupils should be
taught however, she sought to avoid confrontation. Lisa de-
scribes a relationship of compliance.
Iris’s voice:
I first had a different mentor who did not challenge me at all.
She accepted almost everything I said or did. I asked to be
transferred to another cooperating teacher. This is not what I
was looking for.
In Iris’s case, they did “speak the same language” and there
was no conflict. Yet, Ir is was looking for more “action ”. For Iris,
“seeing eye t o eye” was not a challenge and did not enhance her
What might be implied in Iris’s and Lisa’s experiences is the
perceptual gaps that Eby (2000) and later Russell (2011) have
identified. The words from these two student teachers reflect
their direct encounters with the mentoring process in the prac-
ticum. Being involved in the prac ticum programm e at the co llege
and knowing that these experiences were recurrent, raised criti-
cal questions for me about role perceptions and mentor-mentee
Thus the questions that the study sought to answer are:
1) What do mentors think of their role and what do students
think of the mentor’s role? Do they have similar or different
2) What sort of relationships can be identified between the
mentor and the student?
The assumption was that gaining more insights on these issues
would help to facilitate the mentoring experience of student
teachers and their mentors in the practicum.
Role Perceptions
Handy (1999) contends that rol e ambiguity results when ther e
is uncertain ty in the m inds of th e foc al per son or o f th e mem bers
of the role set of what their role is at a certain given time. In the
same vein, role conflict or role incompatibility results from a
clash between other people’s expectations of one in one’s role
and one’s own self-concept. He argues that this feeling is not
necessarily bad as the ability to shape one’s own role is a free-
dom that many people desire, but it may lead to role stress.
Although mentor teachers have a central role in shaping be-
ginning teachers’ beliefs and can significantly impact their
learning (Cochran-Smith, 1991) the mentoring role as a con-
ceptual model lacks clarity and the work of mentoring is con-
sidered to be complex and problematic (Harris, 1998; Rajuan,
Beijaard, & Verloop, 2010). Much earlier, Wheatley (1992)
argued that roles and people are not fixed entities; they are
relationships that involve one another and thus might operate
within multiple identities which Hawkins (2005: p. 61) describes
as a “dance in which identities are negotiated and constructed
through social interaction”. Weng er (1998: p. 155) as well points
out that identity is “work in progress” and “different ways of
engaging in practice may reflect diffident forms of individ uality,
and different forms of accountability may call for different
responses to the same circumstances”. This notion is further
supported by other studies which describe the dual roles of the
mentor as a teacher of children and teacher of teachers (Korth el
al., 2006; Tillema, Smith, & Leshem, 2011); or as sometimes a
novice and sometimes an expert, depending on contextual cir-
cumstances (Orland-Barak & Yinon, 2005; Leshem, 2008).
Various schools of thoughts concerning the conceptualization
of the role of the mentor point at diverse dimensions within the
role. Definitions range from just “being there” (Feiman-Nemser,
Parker, & Zeichner, 1993) to offering “active assistance for
student teachers” (Tomlinson, 1995) and to developing reflec-
tive professionals (Ballantyne, Packer, & Hansford, 1995; Co-
chran-Smith & Zeichner, 2006), who “think more broadly about
their practice” (Fairbanks, Freedman, & Kahn, 2000: p. 102).
Daloz (1986) refers to support and challenge as two dimen-
sions of the mentoring role that could enhance or debilitate
learning. He defines support as an affirming activity and chal-
lenge as generating dissonance and cognitive tension. He claims
that when the relationship exhibits high support and low chal-
lenge, the students might feel comfortable and unthreatened but
no development is prompted. When support is l ow and challenge
is high the learner will feel intimidated and might withdraw
completely. When support and challenge are low, the learner
will be in a static state. When both support and challenge are
high, learning and development will take place. The fact that
mentors usually function in multiple roles and often are unable
to meet the students’ expectations causes tension in the men-
tor-student relationship (Bulloug h & Draper , 2004). Cain (2009)
believes that the ideal setting for a student is one that is wel-
coming, accepting and supportive.
Furlong et al. (1995) pr esent three mod els of men toring bas ed
on three different visions of the process of learning. They draw
on O’Hear (1988) who advocates the apprenticeship model
where learning is done through emulation of an experienced
practitioner. From this perspective, to be a mentor is simply “to
act as a model” (p. 179) offering practical tips, no t requiring an y
particular skills. The competence model advocates a more sys-
tematic skil l-based approach to learning to teach. Th e mentor is a
trainer in the sense that pre-determined performance standards
guide their mentoring. The reflective model is guided by
Dewey’s conception of teaching and learning which advocates
enquiry into their own practice in order to reveal assumptions
and theories that underlie their action (Dewey, 1933). Within
this model mentors are more of “critical friends” needing the
special skills to help students in the enquiry.
Furlong and Maynard (1995) argue that these models do not
take into consideration the complexities of the developmental
nature of learning. They claim that stud e nts g o through differ ent
phases in their learning to teach and thus mentoring should also
be developmental and undertake different roles at different
stages of lea rning . It is re cognize d, for ins tance, that in the phas e
where students try to “fit in”, they would take a pragmatic sur-
vival approach even if it conflicts with their ideas. At a later
stage they would view the placement as an assessment task in
which they have to adopt particular types of behaviour and will
please the supervising tutor. This also aligns with Maynard and
Furlong (2001) who found that trainees s ometimes seek approval
of their mentors and would avoid confrontation or relinquish
individual teaching styles in order to create mentoring relation-
ships of agreement (Rajuan, Beijaard, & Verloop, 2010). This
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s.
developmental notion seems to manifest mentoring as “a jour-
ney” (Awaya et al., 2003) and as “a process” of collaborative
work (Kwan & Tang, 1996; Lopez-Real & Kwan, 2005). In
light of this notion, Korthagen and Lagerwerf (1996) suggest
different levels of conceptualization of the mentoring role that
mentors might go through: they start with the Gestalt model,
move through to the Schema model and then reach the Theory
Research also suggests that mentoring is culture-bound and
mentors in different countries hold different beliefs about the
nature of the mentoring (Wang, 2001). In the United States
where a decentralized curriculum exists, mentors believed that
what is impo rtan t for st uden t tea chers to l earn is h ow to cate r fo r
the individu al; w hile in th e m o re cent r ali zed systems l ike Ch ina ,
the primary concern is subject based teaching and developing
understanding of curriculum and professional ethics. It could
also be claimed that mentors do not have the autonomy to form
their own conceptual model as teacher educators when univer-
sity or colleges set institutional restrictions and define the
boundaries and expectations for the mentor and the student
(Zeichner, 1993; Arnold, 2006). Thus, it is still possible to ac-
cept Harris’ s (1998) vie w that th e mentori ng role a s a conce ptual
model is quite ambiguous and context bound. These conceptual
understandings guide the research analysis as it helps to illumi-
nate the complexities of the mentor-mentee relationships.
The Study
Context of Study
The teacher education programme is an integrative four year
programme in a teacher education college. Practice teaching
occurs over cons ecutive years allowing for gradual immersion of
student teachers into the school system and the task of teaching.
Students start practice teaching in their second year of their
BA/B.Ed/B.Sc studies. In their second year they are placed in
PDS (Professional Development Schools) in multidisciplinary
groups and spend one day a week in the school with a didactic
supervisor from the institution and a mentor from the hosting
school. In their third year students are placed individually into
host schools with an experienced teacher in the student’s disci-
pline who is appointed as a mentor. Mentors are chosen by the
school principal or pedagogical counselors in the school on the
basis of experience. The mentors should have at least five years
of teaching experience. Students and mentors are randomly
matched and in most cases they do not know each other. If a
student recommends a mentor and wishes to practice teach in a
particular school, the mentor has to be approved by the college
didactic lecturer. Occasionally, they are chosen due to circum-
stances of convenience such as proximity, or acquaintance.
The participants in the study were 15 pairs of mentors and
their stude nt teachers in di fferent se condary schools. All mentors
and their students were female except for one male mentor and
one male student. Mentors’ teaching experience ranged from
five to 20 years. The student teachers were in their second year
of practice teaching at a teacher education college. Students and
mentors came from different disciplinary backgrounds ranging
from social studies, sciences and humanities. Their ages ranged
from 35 to 55. All 15 pairs in the research were randomly
matched by discipline. Participants were given pseudonyms.
Design of Study
The research design employs an inductive approach. The aim
of the study was not to generalize to all mentors or student
teachers, but to gain insights on the perceptions of the partici-
pants of this study on the role of the mentoring and the mentor-
ing experience and to offer propositions to be advanced that
other practitioners might wish to investigate in their own con-
texts. An open-ended questionnaire seemed to b e the appropri ate
method for this research as it elicited lived experiences of the
participants (Merriam, 1998).
The questionnaire of a common set of open questions was
distributed electronically, by a research assistant to 25 pairs of
student teach ers and m entors. Th e sample com prises t he 15 pairs
who responded to the invitation to participate. The questionn aire
was distributed separately to mentors and students so that they
could each respond independently. Names or any identifiable
details were removed to respect anonymity. The questionnaire
consisted of eight open-ended questions to initiate written re-
sponses on topics that would capture the view of respondents in
their own words on the role of the mentor and the mentoring
relationships (see Appendix 1). The questions pertained to per-
spectives on “good teaching”; “good mentoring”; “role” of the
mentor; as sessment of p erformance in the mentoring process and
assessment of collaboration (agreement/disagreement).
Drawing on qualitative data analysis the data from the an-
swers to the questionnaire items were systematically organized
to facilitate the process of analyzing, interpreting and making
meaning of the data (Bogdan & Biklen, 1982). The approach to
the data analysis involved the following: In order to obtain a
holistic sense of the data (Creswell, 1998) and to identify simi-
larities and differences of perceptions on the mentor’s role, the
responses to each question from mentors and students were
organized in a table. Responses were read by two readers, the
researcher and the research assistant, to determine common
themes. Emergent themes were highlighted and then presented
as descriptors for each question. Further verification and re-
finement of the descriptors entailed recursive processes of
reading that yielded the formulation of categories pertaining to
role perceptions (Patton, 1990). Table 1 lists the categories
found for the mentors and students for each question. For ex-
ample, “good teaching” was captured in a category of “person-
ality traits”, “student awareness” “professionalism” “reflection”
and “education oriented”. Conditions for “good mentoring” and
the “role of the mentor” was captured in the categories of
“teaching skills”, “modeling”, “guiding”, “collaboration, shar-
ing” and “reflecting”.
In order to identify the type of relationship within pairs of
mentors and student teachers, written responses of the ques-
tionnaire for each pair were read again to identify words or
phrases that related specifically to the nature of interaction, and
to arrive at a synthesis of common grounded indicators for
mentor mentee relationship. Examples of indicators for types of
interaction were: openness, trust, sensitivity, availability, dis-
agreement, compliance, mutual learning, sharing, respect. Peer
review throughout the data analysis was used to ensure the
redibility of the findings (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). c
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 415
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s .
Table 1.
Categories of perceptions on mentoring.
Students’ perceptions Mentors’ perceptions
Good teach i ng
Personality traits Personality traits
Interesting, raising curiosity; widening horizons, crea tive,
emotional. Having a mission, challenging, empathic, sensitive, creative.
Student awareness Student awareness
Leading to achievements, knowing pupils, buildin g up identity.Empowering studen ts , asking questions, creating positive
environment, catering for all.
Professionalism Professionalism
Be a professional, transmit knowledge More than transmitting knowledge, expert of curriculum,
professional, educator
Teaching f or self-thinking, independent thinking, to doubt and
be critical
Education or ie nte d
Community involvement, mai nt aining educ ational va lues
Good mentoring
Teaching skills Teaching skills
Help with preparing lessons, provide know l edge, skil l s Be expert, provide tools, skills, learn management,
connecting theory and practice
Being a model
Be a guide, t he expert
Give constructive feedback, assistance, support, being
available, role model
Collaboration Collaboration and sharing
Give feeli ng of confide nce, show weak points, allow for
mistakes, strengthen identity, trust, dialogue
Provide window , fam iliarize, share p ractice and
responsibility, sociali ze into sch o o l , interactio n , l earn from
each other, give space
Space, obje ctivity, constructive
Process of mentoring
Benefits from
Learn to teach
Learn about children, theory , the role of the school, acqu ire
tool, link with reality of teaching
Give feedback, be role model, accept criticism, discuss and
have an ope n dialogue
Become teacher Become teacher
Joy of doing, b e intere s ted, flexible, knowledgeable Challenge wi th tasks and responsibi l i t y, to work hard
Learn from students, conne ct theory with pra ctice
Efforts invested G ain insights, advice, feedback, better lesson plans
Process Process
Good relations, create interest, inves t effort, implement adviceBe accurate, willing to invest, go beyond, effort to prepare
Language use , manage class, catering learning sty les,
knowing m aterial, subject matter
assessment Interaction Interaction
Solving disagreemen ts , l ook for cha l lenges Accepting different views, criticism
Role Perceptions: Similar or Different?
A first holistic reading of the data identified emergent cate-
gories for perceptions on the role of mentoring (see Table 1).
The findings reveal that perceptions are essentially similar but
there are slight differences in orientations between students and
mentors’ perceptions.
Students in general are more concerned with the pragmatics,
namely, micro classroom activities and teaching strategies.
When they describe the benefits of mentoring they actually
provide lists of teaching techniques that they have acquired:
“knowing how to explain, making teaching material relevant to
the pupils and raising curiosity through interesting and moti-
vating ways of teaching.” Mentors have a wider perspective of
teaching and mentoring: “teachers need to be challenging, im-
part knowledge in motivating ways and perform as role models
in all respects”.
Another theme which is dominant among the mentors is re-
flection as a critical component of good teaching and good
mentoring (developing critical thinking, self-reflection, inde-
pendent thinking). Students only allude to it. What stands out in
both mentors’ and students’ texts is the acknowledgement of
feedback sessions as crucial and a major source of knowledge
about teaching. They also refer to it in their responses concern-
ing the benefits of mentoring. However, the orientation here is
again slightly different. Some mentors regard the feedback
sessions as an “intellectual dialogue” as it stimulates them to
reflect on their own practice; Students describe feedback as
something that helps them develop the craft of teaching in their
subject area as follows: “I gained some insights about how to
organize my teaching material s.” “I sa w diff ere nt way s of usi ng
visual aids to make the lesson more interesting.” “I learned
different ways of relating to pupils and how to build a good
rapport with them.”
A few students also mention benefits that transcend subject
matter teaching techniques. For Dana (student) a lesson entails
more than j ust teaching : “Every lesson, no m atter what you teach,
is an educational opportunity and it is important not to miss it.”
Lina (student) moves beyond the boundaries of the classroom
and sees the interrelationship between the school community and
the mentor-mentee relationship. “Good relationships between
mentors and students depend much on how the school commu-
nity welcomes us as learners in the school. It is not taken for
Student-Mentor Relationships
The relatio nal types that emerg ed from the analysis of patterns
of relationships (Question 2) are as follows: an evolving rela-
tionship which indicates process; relationship of compliance
which indicates agreement and acceptance, a learning relation-
ship which indicates mutual learning, and a coaching relation-
ship which indicates support and sensitivity. In the following
section a selection of vignettes which portray the different ty-
pologies are illustrated.
Evolving Relationship
What characterizes the following cases is the developmental
nature of the relationship as described by pairs of mentors and
the students. Dafni (student) and Raya (mentor) describe a men-
toring relationship which develops gradually into an agreement
of acceptance. They learn in the course of the mentoring pro cess
to trust and ac ce pt di ff eren c es of opin ion. Th is is r ef le cted in th e
following comment of Dafni. “Accepting feedback as construc-
tive criticism is a process which has to be built on openness and
trust. Along the way, we arrived at a sort of agreement that we
are open to criticism”. Dafni’s co mment suggests that in order to
reach such a pos i tion th e y first h ave t o g et t o kno w each oth er to
maintain an open and trustworthy relationship.
Mina’s (student) description also captures the notion of time
and process. She describes how with time she learns to ac-
commodate to Rachel’s style of teaching: “I realized that she
was very particular about details and it was much against my
view of things. It took me some time to appreciate her approach
and see the rationale behind it”.
Learning Relationship
Mary and Yana mentored by Sharon express quite explicitly
that congruence of perspectives between mentors and students
is crucial for good mentorship. Mary states quite directly the
disadvantages of random pairing in spite of the fact that she is
“lucky” having Sharon: “There must be mutual appreciation
and congruence in educational perspectives between the mentor
and the student. To my surprise the matching between mentor
and student has been done on the basis of residence proximity. I
expected it to entail a preceding meeting between the mentor
and the student so that placement would be based on mutual
agreement. Luckily, I was placed with a teacher who I learned
from a lot and I admire her way of teaching and thinking, but I
know colleagues who are placed with teachers from whom they
learn what not to do or be.”
Yana also thinks that the fact that she and Sharon share the
same opinion on grades is a positive aspect of the practicum
experience. “… the pl eas an t appr oac h of the te ach er an d the fac t
that she is not grade oriented but stresses more progress and
development, contributes a lot to the positive atmosphere and to
the practicum experience.” Sharon, the mentor, remarks on the
dialogical mode of mentoring and its two-way benefits: “I real-
ized that the dialogue helped me and them to understand my
pedagogical procedures. I felt that the conversations I had with
the students improved my own teaching”. In her response to the
question about the benefits of her mentoring to the students, she
writes: “I hope I managed to communicate the great responsi-
bility of educators and the need to continually ask questions
about one’s own practice. “Thus it seems that Mary Yana and
Sharon have become a small community of learning. For them
the congruence of perceptions has created a fertile ground for
open conversations which benefited all of them.
Bath (mentor), for example, emphasizes the great response-
bility in being a role model. She feels that she has to portray a
positive image and thereby improve her own teaching: “I dis-
covered that the open dialogue with the students assisted me as
much as it assisted the students. The immense responsibility of
being a model to look up to, and the need to conv ey the message
that teaching is a mission, improved my own work as I felt I had
to practice what I preach”. Hava is an experienced history
teacher however, working with Ella , she ad m its t h at a t t im es sh e
feels insecu r e i n the feedb a ck sessions an d recogn iz es tha t eve r y
student opens up new opportunities for learning. “I am sure the
student benefited a lot from observing my lessons. Still, I feel I
do not have enough experience in mentoring. I realize that I still
have a lot to learn. Every student is a new world and I have to
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 417
cope with different issues but this is how I am gaining experi-
Relationship of Compliance
Daniele teaches Bible and is Rosaline’s mentor. T hey realize
that they have different worldviews but decide somehow to
resolve it. Rosaline w r ites: “It i s problematic when t here is a big
gap between the mentor and the student con cerning world views,
especially when teaching the Bible. Every lesson I learn some-
thing new and it makes me think how I would do it.” Daniele
writes: “We decided that each teacher teaches according to their
beliefs and we learned to respect each other’s ways of thinking.
It was a good lesson for me”. For Rosaline the dissonance of
views creates a learning opportunity which prompts her to reflect
on what she o bse rves a nd ga ins in si ghts o n how s he wou ld te ach
it. Daniele prefers not to challenge the dissonance due to her
respect for her mentor. Quite similarly, Limor appreciates the
knowledge and experience of her mentor and prefers not to
challenge her with questions albeit the fact that she does not
always agre e with her. At times I te nded no t to agr ee with thing s
she was doing or saying, but she had a lot of experience and so
much knowledge that I was reluctant to raise any questions and
just took what I needed for my lessons.
Areen and Sima describe a similar conflict based on cultural
differences. Areen, an Arab student chose to practice teach in a
Jewish school having a Jewish mentor, Sima. This is quite ex-
ceptional as Arab students usually practice teach i n Arab schools .
Areen emphasi zes the diffi culty of “ cultural gaps” an d writes: “I t
was not easy to cope with the difficulties of a context I am not
familiar with, but I respected my mentor’s knowledge and ac-
cepted her views, although they were not always in line with my
cultural values. Sima who acknowledges the difficulties she en-
counters, passively accepts her mentor’s views out of respect to
her knowledge. Areen , for whom this is also a un ique experience,
refers to it as a “learning opportunity” however; she too chooses
not to further explore the cultural dissonance.
Some descriptions reflect implicit expectations that mentors
and students have but they are not explicitly challenged. For
example, Sara who is mentored by Lynn describes their rela-
tionship as “uneventful”: “Our collaboration is smooth as the
mentor usually does not do or say things that surprise me, thus
there is no place for disagreement or elaborated discussion.”
In other words, Sara needs something “surprising” to happen
in order to challenge “discussion” or “disagreement” otherwise;
she conforms to her mentor’s approach.
Coaching Relationship
Naama sees the role of the mentor as someone who is always
there for her for everything she needs. She is very much de-
pendent on her when preparing her lessons and takes her feed-
back very seriously. Mariana feels that her role is to encourage
and help Naama in any and every way to succeed. She puts a lot
of emphasis on the affective aspects of mentoring when she
describes her role as a mentor. Orly describes a relationship that
is based on patience and consideration. She writes: “My mentor
is very consid erate and alwa ys happ y to help. She is very patien t,
guides me in whatever I need and always makes sure that eve-
rything is clear.” Linda (student) articulates very clearly her
expectations from her mentor. She seems to be at a stage where
support is the most important thing she needs:
“What I need from my mentor most of all at this stage of my
practice teaching is taking me by the hand. I am still not sure
about anything I am doing or observing.”
Discussion and Conclusion
The analysis of perceptions of mentors and students on what
constitutes good mentoring and on their mentoring experience,
reveals that there is no great d ispute between the two groups and
there are only slight differences in orientations as described in
the findings. The patterns of relationships that have been identi-
fied portray a supportive ambience based on dialogue, usually
with a tendency to agreement. Upon first reaction, the results
should put us at ease, as it creates a learning environment which
accords with Cain’s id eal setting for a mentoring si tuation ( Cain,
2009); and still, the complacent atmosphere is troublesome,
especially, in ligh t of the perc eptual discrepan cies echoed by Iris,
Lisa and others.
Yet, another concern emerges from the incongruity between
mentors” perceptions and their actual practice. Mentors (less so
the students) consider reflection as one of the critical compo-
nents in good mentoring. The expectations derived from such
perceptions would be maintaining an inquiry oriented relation-
ship; however, evidence shows that although there is “mutual
learning”, the orientations of the mentoring relationships are
more of compliance and compromise. So how can we make
sense of it?
Most students in the research are at their initial stages of
practice teaching. They might have avoided taking risks and
preferred taking the “safe zone” attitude. This aligns with the
state of “novice” teachers who according to Berliner (2001) are
intimidated by ambiguity and by dissonances caused by unfa-
miliar situations. Thus they are more oriented to self and tend to
focus on their p er form an ce an d th ei r ne ed to follow th eir m ent or
teachers (Huberman, 1993) like Dafni who sought to accom-
modate to here mentor”s style of teaching . Likewise, the benefits
of mentoring noted by both students and mentors pertain mainly
to practical aspects of teaching and rarely to wider educational
aspects beyond “teaching tips” (although it has been alluded to
by some students and mentors). This corresponds with students’
needs of practical support and their adaptive stance to avoid
The findings also show that both the students an d the mentors
entered their respective roles having assumptions and expecta-
tions about teaching and mentoring. However, the students’
encounter with the reality of teaching and the role hierarchy of
mentor-student has an impact on their previously held percep-
tions. Some students relinquish their own views about teaching
practices out of respect to the mentor’s knowledge and experi-
ence. This is also s hown in some of students’ assertions that they
“would do things differently when they become teachers”. What
is worrying is the fact that they identify dissonance, but they
choose not to challenge it. They rather accommodate to the
mentor’s style of teaching and maintain a relationship of agree-
ment (Rajuan, Beijaard, & Verloop, 2010).
The evidence further su ggests that mentors p erfor m in emerg-
ing realiti es and e mbrace mu ltipl e roles a nd i denti ties ( Whe atle y,
1992; Wenger, 1998; Hawkins, 2005) which influence the men-
toring relationship and the learning process. They are the role-
models to look up to and the masters of knowledge, guiding
students how to perform. This would suggest an apprenticeship
model (Maynard & Furlong, 1993). They are also the coaches
helping students to recognize their strengths and weaknesses and
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s.
thus perform as critical friends. Yet, at times, they are learners
themselves challenged by unanticipated situations which create
opportunities for reflecting on their own practice, like Hava, the
experienced history te ach er who felt inexperienced in her role as
a mentor and each student was a new experience for her. Thus a
mentor’s behavior may shift between a novice and an expert
(Orland-Barak & Yinon, 2005) seeking not to challenge the
situations that they confront. The “novice state” might explain
Lisa’s voice and many others who feel that in order for learning
to occur they would need a sup portive mentoring context free of
The mentoring relationships also expose students and mentors
to conflicting perceptions; however, they are not exploited as
learning opportunities. This raises some critical questions: were
students at different stages of learning where they could not yet
articulate explorative questions and challenge their perceptions
of classroo m pract ices ? Did t he y need d ifferent mentoring styles
to accommodate to their personality and level of learning (Fur-
long, 1995)? Let’s remind ourselves of Sara who felt that noth-
ing surprising happened to stimulate a discussion or disagree-
ment; was she at the novice stage, unable to recognize learning
opportunities? Or, did she need a mentor who would challenge
the discussion? In a study exploring the meanings that student
teachers attribute to the experience of observation in the prac-
ticum Orland-Barak and Leshem (2009) found that consonant
with their novice stage, students do not distinguish the surprising
critical incidents as valued learning experiences. They propose
the need t o problemati ze and art iculate ins ights from o bservation.
Their findings might confir m Sara’s situation. Going back to Iris
and Lisa as illustrative cases, we could now assume that they
were at different stages in their learning process and perhaps
needed different mentoring orientations. This could explain the
perceptual discrepancy that they describe. Thus, the proposition
that could be advanced is that the mentoring relationship is
developmental (Furlong & Maynard, 1996) and does not follow
a linear process. Mentors and students would need to adapt to
situations that emerge. It confir ms Jones” (2009 ) view th at men-
toring is contextualized and highly personalized.
What follows from the evidence is that mentors and students
entered the mentoring experience with similar pedagogical
beliefs. This created an accommodating and supporting context
for learning. However, the harmonious relationship was mainly
based on compliance. Although there is lack of agreement in the
literature on whether similarities or differences of beliefs be-
tween mentors and students’ yield better le arning (Hobson et al.,
2009) the evidence is somewhat disturbing and provokes food
for thought. The main concern is that both mentors and students
seemed to have missed opportunities for questioning beliefs and
values of observed situations, which is a critical component of
effective mentoring (Jones, 2009). Some of the explanations that
have been provided above might well be the reason for the
missed opportunities, and yet, the practical implications that I
would like to suggest are that supportive contexts in the men-
toring relationship should be a means to an end an d not a n end in
itself. The harmonious relationship could provide the appropri-
ate supporting context for students and mentors to exploit con-
tradictions and conflicts as sites of inquiry (Graham, 1997; Til-
lema, 1995). The mentor-mentee relationship should be “up-
graded”. This could be achieved by interrogating systems of
beliefs that underlie practice (Handal & Lauvas, 1987; Hobson,
2009) and thereby bring about a theorized practice (Schon, 1987)
where learning and development take place (Daloz, 1986).
Although this study is small in scale and its inductively
produced findings cannot be generalized, it contributes to pre-
vious resear ch and can inform teac her educat ion in several ways:
In the framework of most teacher education programmes stu-
dents are assigned to schools and mentors without any pre-
liminary systematic preparation for the mentoring experience.
Likewise, in most cases mentors are chosen on the basis of years
of experience and do not go through any training before under-
taking their mentoring duties. The study highlights the com-
plexities that mentorship entails. Consequently, more attention
must be given to preparing students and mentors for their roles in
the practicum. Although there is lack of evidence on the influ-
ence of mentor preparation on mentor effectiveness, some
studies suggest that mentors are more likely to employ effective
mentoring strategies where they have undertaken programmes of
mentor preparation (Hobson, 2009). This might be achieved by
offering workshops that will expose them to case studies and
critical incidents in order to illuminate beliefs, expectations and
dissonances, as points of departure for promoting reflective
practice, an d thereby acqu ire strategies to challenge students into
deeper levels of thinking. Likewise, students will receive pre-
paratory sessions prior to their practicum whereby they will be
exposed to the different roles of the mentor and how they can
raise their level of thinking by engaging in critical dialogue and
challenge mentoring conversations.
In order to extend the insights of the present study I would
encourage more research on the different learning processes
which transpire within pairs of mentors and students at different
phases in the mentoring process. The evidence might help iden-
tify the different needs of students and mentors and provide
programme developers with more insights on how to enhance
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Appendix 1: Questionnaire
1) What is your understanding of “good teaching”?
2) How would you define the mentor’s role during practice
3) What is your understanding of “good mentoring”?
4) How would you describe the mentoring you experienced in
your practice teaching? Please support your response.
5) Can you list at least three things you feel you benefited
from the mentoring?
6) How would you assess your effort during the practice
period? What do you take into account?
7) How would you assess your performance during this
practice period? What do you take into account?
8) To what extent did you experience agreement/disagree-
ment in the mentoring process?
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