Teacher Mentoring

ERIC Identifier: ED271477
Publication Date: 1986-08-00
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Teacher Education Washington DC.

Mentoring is the establishment of a personal relationship for the purpose of professional instruction and guidance. In education, the value of mentoring has been recognized in the use of teachers and other professionals in one-on-one instruction of students for vocational education, science, and reading (Evenson, 1982). Mentoring programs have been implemented recently for beginning teacher induction and continuing staff development. This digest describes teacher mentoring and its different applications.


From the literature on mentoring in professions, Bova and Phillips (1981) compiled a list of ten characteristics inherent in any mentor-protege relationship.

  1. Mentor-protege relationships grow out of voluntary interaction.

  2. The mentor-protege relationship has a life cycle: introduction; mutual trust-building; teaching of risk-taking, communication, and professional skills; transfer of professional standards; and dissolution.

  3. People become mentors to pass down information to the next generation.

  4. Mentors encourage proteges in setting and attaining short- and long-term goals.

  5. Mentors guide technically and professionally. Mentors teach proteges skills necessary to survive daily experiences and promote career-scope professional development.

  6. Mentors protect proteges from major mistakes by limiting their exposure to responsibility.

  7. Mentors provide opportunities for proteges to observe and participate in their work.

  8. Mentors are role models.

  9. Mentors sponsor proteges organizationally and professionally.

  10. Mentor-protege relationships end, amiably or bitterly.

Some school systems have formalized mentoring processes as part of newly developed induction programs, thus compromising some of the mentor-protege relationship characteristics. Voluntary participation becomes mandatory for the protege. At the same time the sphere of influences in which the mentor would ordinarily affect the protege is decreased by time and authority restrictions. The mentor cannot regulate the beginning teacher's levels of responsibility. The mentor does not have the freedom to direct the protege's activities nor the time to adequately oversee developing classroom performance. The mentoring relationship can be supported by creating a school environment which openly offers assistance and provides the means to expand the initiate's repertoire of teaching techniques and classroom management skills.


As an interactive system, mentoring benefits all participants: the mentor, the protege, and the school system.

  1. The Mentor

    Mentors gain the satisfaction of being able to transfer skills and knowledge accumulated through extensive professional practice (California State Board of Education, 1983; Krupp, 1984). Much of this knowledge is intangible and is not contained in teacher preparation programs. It might be lost entirely if it were not rediscovered by each beginner. The questions from beginning teachers provide opportunities for mentor teachers to reexamine their own classroom practices and the effects of accepted instructional techniques on the teaching/learning process.

  2. The Protege

    The protege benefits in three major ways:

    • fast assimilation into the school environment,
    • establishment of professional competence, and
    • introduction to teaching as a continually developing, lifelong career.

    One of the most recognized uses of mentoring is the conveyance of operating procedures to the beginner (Evenson, 1982).

  3. The School System

    The school administration provides an introduction to the rules but the mentor teaches the skills necessary to comply and cope with them (Driscoll et al., 1985). The mentor provides the protege with opportunities to develop professional competence through a cycle of observation/assessment/practice/assessment. This permits continuous communication and constant feedback to the protege. Classroom skills develop under the mentor's constant and consistent assistance. The mentor also guides the protege though the maze of local and state administration systems which potentially influence the practices of the classroom teacher. Finally, the mentor directs the protege to professional organizations for academic and professional development.

    The school district benefits both directly and indirectly from mentoring programs. A school which enthusiastically welcomes beginning teachers and initiates them to active participation in the educational processes potentially reduces its teacher attrition rate (Driscoll et al., 1985). Furthermore, close supervision of the beginning teacher catches problems which may affect the instructional process or discourage the teacher. Involving experienced teachers in the program and providing them the opportunity to pass on their expertise further demonstrates long-term professional interest in the faculty and provides an environment conducive to lifelong professional careers.

Confusing "assessment" with "evaluation" provides a common cause of mentor program failure (Griffin, 1984). An effective mentoring process is built on a foundation of mutual trust. The objective of the process is assistance. Both trust and assistance are placed in serious jeopardy if the mentor is saddled with evaluation responsibilities. Assessment, however, is an important part of the mentoring process which allows the protege self-criticism and direction for improvement (California State Board of Education, 1983). Programs can resolve this conflict by appointing separate evaluators who meet with the protege and mentor to discuss performance evaluations.

Mandatory program participation could cause problems in the mentoring process, but surveys of post-program proteges and mentors repeatedly report enthusiastic support of organized mentoring programs (Krupp, 1984; Huffman and Leak, 1986). This seems to indicate that schools can establish an environment for effective mentoring in mandatory programs.

Finding criteria and methods for choosing mentors is a problem common to all programs. Some criteria and methods for mentor selection are suggested by Driscoll in her description of the Utah Teacher Evaluation Program. The California Teacher Mentor Program (California State Board of Education, 1983) and the Model School Project of Louisville (Benningfield et al., 1984) offer additional mentor characteristics. Proteges become good teachers by assimilating the desirable skills, attitudes, and professional outlook of their mentors. The latter is unlikely unless the beginning teachers are matched judiciously with prequalified senior teachers who share professional interests, expressed educational philosophies, and compatible personalities.

Using a mentoring program to fulfill state-mandated and district-required certification, induction, and staff development programs loads mentoring with obligations that the technique is not designed to handle. The mentor is a guide to the profession, not a stand-in for administration (Driscoll et al., 1985)


Krupp (1984) describes one of few wholly mentoring programs. This experimental program conducted in Connecticut elementary and secondary schools cultivated the spontaneous formation of mentoring relationships among teachers. An introductory seminar for all school staff motivated an interest in the mentoring process. Successive workshops for volunteer program participants provided information and guidance to mentor teachers and their proteges.

In most teacher mentoring programs, mentoring forms a basic component of a multipurpose teacher induction program. Many induction programs seek to qualify a new teacher for certification and permanent employment, necessitating evaluation of teaching skills and providing programs to improve those skills to preset standards. The literature provides many examples of these mentoring-evaluation program hybrids (see Galvez-Hjornevik, 1985). Another purpose for supporting the teacher mentor/protege relationship with additional induction activities is to restore some of the benefits of professional mentoring which are necessarily curtailed by the teaching environment: time constraints and limitations of personnel interaction. Driscoll et al. (1985) discuss the problems common to the adaptation of the traditionally idealistic relationship of mentor and protege to the teacher's real world of limited time and structured activities.

The multipurpose programs come in two varieties: those using mentoring as a part of an induction process and those using mentoring as a tool for general staff development. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Career Development Program (Schlechty, 1985) is representative of teacher induction programs which assign each new teacher to an induction committee. This "Advisory/Assessment Team" consists of a school administrator, an instructional consultant (often from a teacher preparation program of a nearby college), and a peer teacher who acts as a mentor to the beginner. These programs back up both the mentor and the protege with separate supporting activities. The system has received favorable reviews, despite the misleading use of the term "assessment": the final team "assessment" determines the employment status for the protege.

Examples of programs which use mentoring as a general approach to staff development are the California Mentor Teacher Program (California State Department of Education, 1983) and the proposed Model School System of Louisville, Kentucky (Benningfield et al., 1984). In these specific programs, the use of "mentor" is a misnomer. Both programs professionalize the mentoring process by training senior teachers as master teachers to instruct beginning and experienced teachers in advanced instructional techniques and classroom skills. Each trained "mentor" is assigned a group of "proteges." The mentor also is responsible for curriculum development and the exploration of new instructional techniques. The concept of training experienced teachers to advise and monitor a group of other teachers does not evolve from developments in the use of mentoring as much as it is derived from twenty years of induction program development (see Galvez-Hjornevik's Appendix from Zeichner-1979, 1985). The California and Louisville programs borrow the best of master teacher programs and combine it with the less personal aspects of mentoring.

The success of mentoring programs has been documented largely by opinion survey. Most of the programs using teacher mentoring are less than four years old. Long-term objectives, including the retention of new teachers and development of experienced ones, have had insufficient time to be realized. However, surveys of perceptions of program success overwhelmingly conclude that beginning teachers expand their techniques, improve teaching skills, and learn classroom management (Huffman and Leak, 1986). Furthermore, mentors do appreciate the opportunity to and do pass their expertise on to new teachers (Califonia State Department of Education, 1983; Krupp, 1984). The varieties of mentoring programs described in the literature should allow any school district to find a model which fits its budget, time, and spatial constraints.

This publication was prepared with funding from the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, under OERI contract. The opinions expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of OERI or the Department of Education. ERIC Digests are in the public domain and may be freely reproduced.


Benningfield, M., et al. "A Proposal to Establish Demonstration Schools and the Identification, Training and Utilization of Master/Mentor and Master Teacher: A Joint School District and University of Louisville Project." Paper presented at the annual conference of the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education, 1984. ED 241 465.


California State Department of Education. CALIFORNIA MENTOR TEACHER PROGRAM. PROGRAM ADVISORY. 1983. ED 241 473.

Driscoll, A., et al. "Designing A Mentor System For Beginning Teachers." JOURNAL OF STAFF DEVELOPMENT 6,2 (October 1985).

Evenson, J. S. WORKPLACE MENTORING. Far West Laboratory for Educational Research and Development. 1982. ED 246 182.

Galvez-Hjornevik, C. "Teacher Mentors: A Review of the Literature." Austin, TX: Research and Development Center for Teacher Education, University of Texas, 1985. SP 026 844. Note: most of this material appears in JOURNAL OF TEACHER EDUCATION 37,1 (January-February 1986): 6-11.

Griffin, G. A. "Crossing the Bridge: The First Years of Teaching." Paper prepared for the National Commission on Excellence in Teacher Education, 1984. ED 250 292.

Huffman, G., and S. Leak. "Beginning Teachers' Perceptions of Mentors." JOURNAL OF TEACHER EDUCATION 37,1 (January-February 1986): 22-25.

Krupp, J. A. "Mentor and Protege Perceptions of Mentoring Relationships in an Elementary and Secondary School in Connecticut." Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, 1984. ED 245 004.

Schlechty, P. "Evaluation Procedures in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Career Ladder Plan." EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP 43,3 (November 1985): 14-19.

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