Mentoring a training teacher can be extremely rewarding and will help you to grow as a practitioner too. Lorna Smith, Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of Bristol, shares her advice on how to get the most out of the relationship for both mentor and mentee.

by Lorna Smith
17th August 2020



When it works well, having a trainee teacher working alongside you can be great: not only do you have the satisfaction of nurturing a new entrant to the profession and passing on your professional wisdom, but you are likely to revisit and critique your own teaching, and may be challenged to do things in a new way (particularly if the trainee comes buzzing with lots of ideas and approaches that they want to try). They may also be able to share with you some recent research findings that you, snowed under with day-to-day matters in school, might not have got round to reading quite yet.

Your partner ITT/ITE institution, if you have one, will hopefully provide you with training, or at least some written guidance, but here is a checklist of things you may need to do to make the placement run smoothly.

Preparation for the placement    

  • Make sure that you understand all the current documentation, particularly if you have previously mentored a trainee from another institution, or are relying on memories of your own PGCE. All training organisations and institutions have their own paperwork and procedures: you need to be familiar with up-to-date details.
  • Make a note of key dates on a wall planner and make sure that this is clearly displayed in your team office, easily accessible to you, colleagues and the trainee.
  • Draft the trainee’s timetable, in consultation with their tutor or training lead/coordinator, your head of department and colleagues.
  • If you have access to information about the trainee, use it to discuss with colleagues their possible training needs.
  • Arrange login details so that the trainee has access to the school’s data systems, along with keys, etc.
  • Put together a welcome pack to present to the trainee on the first day. Include the school’s prospectus, the staff handbook, the departmental handbook, and any other relevant information.

Welcoming your trainee – the first week                                                                                  

  • Meet the trainee and introduce them to the team and to other key people during the week – technicians, the reprographics team, etc.
  • Arrange a tour of the school, perhaps with a student.
  • Ensure that the trainee knows where key things are located: the staffroom, the library, the staff loos, the coffee machine.
  • Discuss the draft timetable with the trainee and confirm it; make sure that all relevant people get a copy.
  • Discuss the other responsibilities that the trainee will have during their placement – attendance at meetings, joint form tutor duties, etc.
  • Arrange for the trainee to observe the classes that they will be teaching; ensure that the trainee has time for a discussion with each class teacher about the class as a whole and any learners with particular needs. Give them access to records and relevant information.
  • Confirm whether the trainee will be expected to teach from your school or college’s schemes of work or develop their own, and arrange a time to go through their initial attempts at planning.
  • Ensure that the trainee has time to read the pack of key documentation and allow some time for them to ask questions.
  • Explain the team’s predilections and foibles – does everyone hog a corner of the staffroom for lunch? What’s the mug policy? Who brings in the cakes and when? Let them know everything they need to become part of the team.

During the placement                                                                                                                        

Your trainee will start teaching! Depending on the confidence of the trainee, they might start team-teaching with you, taking responsibility for phases of lessons (such as the starter or the plenary) – or launch straight in. Make sure that you have agreed the expectations in advance.

Arrange regular observations of your trainee: your partner ITT/ITE institution might have given you guidance on exactly how often observations should take place. Make sure that you observe across all the classes that they are teaching. It’s often helpful for you and other colleagues to observe your trainee: colleagues might be able to offer different tips and insights.

Give your trainee a timetabled slot each week in order to discuss their progress: this is an opportunity to celebrate what’s gone well and set targets for development. This should be an uninterrupted, ring-fenced slot to give the trainee a guaranteed opportunity to talk with you, discuss what’s on their mind and look forward to their next challenge. Ensure that you are not taken for cover or hijacked by other colleagues.

Arrange for your trainee to complete other training activities that will help to develop their teaching. This might include:

  • observing colleagues (both inside and outside the faculty), perhaps with a particular focus
  • attending parents’ evenings/learning review days
  • gaining extra-curricular experience (encourage them to join the school’s book club, edit the school newspaper, start a song-writing group, participating on a school trip etc.).

Check that the trainee is keeping a record of their progress against the Professional Standards and that they are gathering evidence to corroborate this.

Ensure that the relevant paperwork is completed on time (and forwarded to relevant partners/colleagues, if required).

Liaise with their tutor, course leader or moderator when they visit and make sure that you have the opportunity to talk to them to discuss the trainee’s progress.

Problems?                                                                                                                                         

It doesn’t always go smoothly: perhaps your trainee is not as organised as a good teacher needs to be, or they get demoralised when they find it hard to build a positive relationship with a class, or their subject knowledge for a particular unit of work is wanting.

If you have any issues or concerns, contact the trainee’s ITT/ITE provider as soon as you can. Remember that the trainee’s problems are not necessarily a reflection on your mentoring skills, and the course leader would much prefer to know sooner rather than later if the trainee is struggling.

In collaboration with their course leader or training coordinator, and your school’s ITE coordinator, you will be able to discuss how best to support the trainee and plan the next steps.




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