Teacher Mentors: Lived Experiences Mentoring At-Risk Middle School Students
Augustine, Kay A.
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SubjectChildren with social disabilities--Education (Middle school); Middle school education; Mentoring in education
Problem: Because the experiences of students in the middle grades are “critical to his or her life’s chances” (Balfanz, 2009, p. 11) and ultimately to graduation (Balfanz, 2009) schools and communities are implementing mentoring interventions to support students struggling to be successful in school (Balfanz, Herzog, & Mac Iver, 2007; Reimer & Smink, 2005; Christensen, Stout, & Pohl, 2012). According to Dubois and Karcher (2014), current research centers on mentors who are volunteers working in school-based mentoring programs. There is little known about the role of teachers as mentors for students in school-based mentoring programs (Aylon, 2011; Dubois & Karcher, 2014). Although mentoring is growing as an intervention, there is a dearth in the literature regarding teachers’ experiences serving as mentors. Procedures: This qualitative phenomenological study investigated the experiences of five middle school teachers who served at least one school year as a mentor in a structured school-based Check & Connect© mentoring program (Christensen, Stout, & Pohl, 2012). With more schools using teachers as mentors, the impetus for this study evolved from a desire to know more about the primary research question: What are the lived experiences of teachers mentoring at-risk middle school students? Teacher mentors from one Midwest middle school were selected based on a criterion and convenience sample (Creswell, 2007). Participants included one man and four women. Two of the subjects were early career teachers and three had five or more years of teaching. Their experience mentoring ranged from two students to over 25. Digital recordings and field notes captured the reflections of the teacher mentors. Interviews were transcribed and a constant comparative analysis (Straus & Corbin, 1990) was used to identify emergent themes (Creswell, 2007). Findings: Describing the experiences of the teacher mentors, 11 themes were identified: relationships are foundational in the mentoring process; finding time to meet with the mentee is challenging but essential, mentoring requires doing more than the minimum, student progress provides motivation for the mentor, mentors find mentoring personally rewarding and enlightening, learning from mentoring at-risk students transfers into the mentor teacher’s classroom, mentoring is hard work, mentoring challenges collegial relationships, on-going relationships with parents require strategy and follow through, monitoring mentee’s data is a framework for the mentoring process, mentors appreciate training and on-going support. The integration of culturally responsive teaching strategies with the mentoring program not only positively impacted the experience of the mentors but also appeared to carry over into the teacher mentors’ classrooms. Teacher mentors exhibited dispositions that align with servant leaders (Nichols, 2011). Conclusions: Strong relationships are formed when teachers mentor at-risk students that impact the teachers as well as the students. More research is needed to identify best practices for engaging teachers as mentors for at-risk students. Future investigations should also address the potential for the transfer of greater understanding of at-risk students and culturally responsive strategies to the classrooms of teachers who have participated as a mentor.