The perspectives of school-based supervisors on their role as mentors during teaching practice in Zimbabwe
The purpose of this study was to explore school-based supervisors’ perspectives of their role in mentoring pre-service teachers during teaching practice in the Masvingo district of Zimbabwe. More specifically, the study was intended to gain insights into how school-based mentors understood what mentoring is, what their mentoring roles are, how they enacted their mentoring roles, types of support they provided student teachers on teaching practice, challenges and opportunities they encountered and what could be done to improve the mentoring of pre-service teachers on practicum. This study contributes new knowledge to the ongoing discourses about initial teacher professional development. In order to investigate school-based supervisors’ perspectives on mentoring student teachers during practicum, the study adopted a qualitative research approach and a case study research design. Using data from in-depth interviews and one focus group discussion with seven purposively sampled mentors together with document analysis of mentors’ written feedback for their mentees over a period of eighteen months, the study draws on cognitive apprenticeship as a lens to understand school-based mentors’ perspectives on mentoring student teachers on teaching practice. The study established that school-based supervisors understood mentoring as a hierarchical relationship between a mentor and a mentee with the former as a senior partner. Mentors’ conceptualisation of mentoring was shaped by their background and experience in mentoring student teachers on practicum. It was established that mentors believed that any qualified teacher was eligible to become a mentor. School-based supervisors do not consider mentorship training as a prerequisite for effective mentoring of pre-service teachers on practicum. The study revealed that school heads use their discretion in the selection and appointment of mentors at their stations. The selection of a mentor was not based on any formal criteria and that teachers were not consulted during the selection and appointment process. It emerged from this study that school-based mentors play several critical mentoring roles such as provision of guidance, nurturing, leading and supervision of pre-service teachers on teaching practice. School-based supervisors enacted their roles through modelling, observation and providing constructive feedback. The study found that mentors faced challenges such as student teachers’ lack of readiness for teaching practice, inadequate information about the teacher training programme and what they were expected to do, as well as inadequate support from their school authorities and the teacher training colleges. The study concluded that mentors used their own experience in mentoring student teachers on teaching practice. The study uncovered that mentoring had several opportunities for school-based mentors such as the construction of lasting professional and social relationships with their mentees and professional growth. Mentors enjoyed the privilege of being given first preference to attend the limited professional development sessions offered by colleges and district education authorities. School-based supervisors learnt from their mentees how to incorporate information communication technology in teaching and learning. The mentees taught their mentors and pupils non-traditional games such as baseball, tennis and rugby. The mentors’ understanding, perspectives and practices were understood and/or explained in terms of how they were trained and the prevailing conditions in the country. In Zimbabwe, any qualified teacher is eligible to become a mentor. Mentorship training is not prioritised in terms of selecting and allocating student teachers to mentors. It is assumed that any trained teacher is capable of guiding student teachers on teaching practice. The mentors were not provided with any guidance in mentoring pre-service teachers on practicum. The study established that mentors used their own experience and the occurrences at their stations to guide their mentees. The study recommended that mentorship training should be compulsory for all school-based supervisors. Teacher training colleges and schools should provide ongoing professional development for mentors. The Department of Teacher Education of the University of Zimbabwe should come up with a comprehensive policy document to guide colleges and schools on how to provide mentorship effectively to student teachers during their practicum.