Re-imagining Mentorship in Teacher Training: Enhancing the Teaching Practice Experience

June 23, 2024


Amani Karisa

Postdoctoral Research Scientist

Lydia Namatende-Sakwa

Associate Research Scientist

By Amani Karisa and Lydia Namatende-Sakwa

Teaching practice is a key component of pre-service teacher training, involving the placement of trainee teachers in real-life school settings to strengthen their skills. It can significantly enhance the skills of trainee teachers by bridging the gap between theory and practice. Indeed, better teacher practices  scaffold better learning outcomes for students. However, there are concerns about the effectiveness of teaching practice programs in Africa, particularly regarding the role of school-based mentors.

Mentors are usually experienced teachers at the school where the  trainee teachers  are placed. Through mentorship, the trainee teacher can get valuable advice and feedback for personal and professional growth. We talked to some teachers about their teaching practice experiences in Kenya, and it is evident that mentorship does not always occur.

Take for example, Katana*, who was trained at a local university. He reports not being attached to a mentor during his teaching practice,

“Upon arriving at the secondary school, I was not given a mentor. School-based mentorship for teacher trainees is not common.”

Petero*, on the other hand, attended a full-time primary teacher training college. He too did not have a mentor during his teaching practice. He observes, “Being attached to a mentor is the ideal situation, but it rarely happens.”

The situation was different for  Naima*, who was trained at a local university. She recalls having a mentor, and the impact such an investment had on her career.  She however did not get the full benefit of being attached to a university-based supervisor. Her experience reinforces the importance of a mentor as they supported her and ensured she completed her program.

“It is the mentor who assessed me. The university supervisor could not come to assess me due to distance challenges and other factors. The mentor sent my assessment results to the university,” says Naima.

Katana, unlike Naima, had a supervisor from the university visit him during the teaching practice. Even so, it was a one-off brief visit that did not cover all aspects of the teaching practice, and did not provide opportunities for genuine exchanges between the supervisor and the trainee. He attributed this to the large number of student teachers allocated to the supervisor.

“The university supervisor assessed me only once in one of the two subjects I was teaching. There were too many trainee teachers for the assigned supervisor. I was mostly on my own during the entire teaching practice duration,” Katana offered during our interview.

In such cases, mentors could help lessen the supervision pressure faced by university supervisors and enrich the teaching practice experience of trainee teachers.

Several considerations are necessary to enhance the mentorship role. There is a need to build mentors’ capacity to perform the mentorship and supervision role effectively. The mentors should be able to use various coaching practices, such as conducting regular feedback sessions with trainees, goal setting, and reflection, to foster continuous learning. They should also be able to contribute to grading and preparing of reports, ensuring the trainees’ progress is monitored and supported. The mentors should be able to provide guidance, support, and constructive feedback to the trainees. Whenever possible, mentors should be paired with trainees with similar subject interests. For the mentors to perform these roles, there is also the need to reassign their workload at the school to enable them to dedicate time to teacher trainees without compromising their primary duties. Moreover, support mechanisms, including upkeep and emotional support, are crucial for the wellbeing of the mentors. All this is possible with stronger partnerships between the teacher training institutions and the teaching practice schools.

*Note: The names of respondents in this article have been changed to protect their identities and interests.

Dr Karisa (@kilichobaki) and Dr Namatende-Sakwa are research scientists at African Population and Health Research Center. This article is based on the  project “Modelling a practicum-based teacher professional development program in a sub-Saharan African country and moving it to scale” funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.