Forces Affecting Beginning Teacher/Mentor Relationships in a Large Suburban School System
According to the U. S. Department of Education (National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, 1996), U.S. public schools will hire an estimated two million teachers within the decade. The experience of the beginning teacher is a stressful one with more than 40% of new teachers choosing to leave the profession during the first three years. One promising practice to address this problem is mentoring, an expert teacher helping the beginner one-on-one. The heart of mentoring is the mentor/mentee relationship. This study investigated the nature of the beginning teacher/mentor relationship and the forces that affected that relationship. The methodology was a cross-case analysis of three pairs of mentor/mentees at the elementary level. The data were collected from focus groups, teacher interviews, observations, email responses, and document review. Data were analyzed using a constant comparative method examining emerging themes across all three cases. Trustworthiness of the research was fostered through multiple sources of data, practice interviews, oversight by peers and committee, participant review, and description of themes in the participants' own words. The data revealed that the mentor/mentee pairs developed very strong relationships grounded on reassurance, collaboration, reciprocity, friendship, problem solving, multi-layered support, and informal structures for getting together. Positive forces affecting the relationships included personality of the participants, perception of mentor role, closeness of age, proximity of classrooms, and common teaching assignment. Time constraints acted as a negative force that presented many challenges addressed by mentors and their mentees in very unique ways.