The work of the mentor: A study of public and private school mentors of new teachers

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Cultural Foundations of Education


Emily Robertson


Private school, Mentors, New teachers, Public school

Subject Categories

Education | Social and Philosophical Foundations of Education | Teacher Education and Professional Development


This qualitative study examines the perspectives of teacher mentors on their work. It includes public and private school K-12 teachers who mentor first year teachers into the profession. The study asks what meaning mentors make of their work. The responses shed light on the profession and the practice of teaching today. Examining what mentors perceive their role and tasks to be tells about the structure and culture of schools.

The study involved 23 mentors from urban, suburban and rural public and private schools. The methodology included interviews of the mentors as well as participant observation in mentoring rituals such as orientations, mentor and mentee training, mentor consortium workshops, State Education Department and Bureau of Cooperative Educational Services meetings on the development of mentoring programs.

Because every new teacher seeking New York State Teacher Certification after February 2004 must have a mentored first-year experience, there is an urgent need for understanding this work of mentoring. Our students are called to a high level of academic achievement, and those expectations must be matched with support for all of our teachers, especially our newest professionals. Learning from mentors what it means to teach today can help us design effective mentoring programs which include wise mentor selection processes, and creative, reflective mentor preparation experiences.

Mentors work within a structure that is not only hierarchical, but also temporal and physical. The structure of their schools shapes their work. The leadership of their schools affects teachers' ownership of their practice. Some mentors foster change; others foster the status quo.

Mentors' perceptions of the school community and of their colleagues, students and content frame how they mentor. The work of mentoring is, in large part, about enculturating the mentee. Much more is told to mentees about how things are than is asked about how things might be.

Often the focus of mentoring is on the weaknesses of the mentee rather than the strengths. Often, he is a vessel to fill rather than a libation to share. Those who would mentor would do well to explore his gifts, his talents, his understanding, and his precious newness.


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