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Mentoring Beginning Science Teachers
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Mentoring Beginning Science Teachers

by Sissy S. Wong

University of Houston


In the United States, 91  of new teachers engage in induction and mentoring pro-grams during their first years of teaching {Ingersoll, 2012). Research has supported the importance of these programs for their impact on the professional development of new teachers. Specifically for science, content specific induction and mentoring have been found to increase new science teachers' implementation of inquiry based practices (luft et al., 2011; Wong, Firestone, Weeks, & Luft, 2013). In addition, content-specific induction and mentoring can help new teachers develop student-centered beliefs about teaching and learning (Luft et al, 2011).


Mentors are critical in helping their mentees acclimate to their new roles as education professionals. Through mentoring, or "personal guidance provided, usually by seasoned veterans, to beginning teachers in schools" (Ingersoll & Strong! 2011 f p. 203t mentors greatly influence how mentees view teaching, implement student-centered strategies, and reflect on their practices. In fact, mentors influence new teachers' practices for the duration of their career. Mentors are critical to the professional development of new science teachers, but are often asked to support new teachers without professional development or support.

This article discusses the developmental stages of new teachers, as well as the types of support they often require. Mentors with knowledge about new teachers can better guide mentees to become more effective in the classroom and cultivate student-centered views. They can also foster inquiry-based practices stressed by current science education reforms (NGSS Lead States, 2013; National Science Teachers Association, 2004) in which students ask scientific questions and engage in authentic investigations (Bell, Smetana, & Binns, 2005).

Development of Beginning Science Teachers

Typically, beginning science teachers progress through a series of developmental stages as they gain experience in the classroom (Luft, Bang, & Roehrig, 2007). Stage one is when the teacher is more teacher-centered as they focus on pertinent issues and trying to keep up with main responsibilities of teaching in the classroom. Stage two is when the teacher focuses on instruction. During this stage, the teacher accumulates the necessary direct experience with teaching, inter¬acting with students, as well as the increased knowledge and ability to adapt lessons and ideas to student needs. Stage three is when the teacher becomes more student-centered in their thinking and practice. At this stage, the teacher concentrates on student learning and includes students in decision making in the classroom.

Mentors that understand the developmental stages of new teachers can guide the professional development of beginning science teachers in more effective ways. It is also important to keep in mind that new teachers can be at different stages when they first enter the profession. While many may enter at stage one, some may be at stage two or three. At the same time, new science teachers can also progress through the stages at different rates. The professional development of new teachers is a complicated phenomenon, but with supports that focus on student-centered views and pedagogies, mentors can help their mentees progress at a faster pace.

Types of support required by mentees

In addition to understanding the development stages of new science teachers, it is also important to recognize the types of support they require for effective instruction. According to Luft et al., (2007) there are five main types of support that new science teachers seek during their beginning years.

(1) Logistical support - Focuses on issues related to knowing what resources are available, and locating the resources.
(2) Instructional support - Centers on identifying and implementing effective strategies and pedagogies.
(3) Conceptual support - Concentrates on understanding and increasing knowledge of subject matter.
(4) Psychological support - Refers to emotional support for facing challenges in the profession including experiences with instruction, students, administration, and parents.
(5) Philosophical support - Connects teaching with the standards and accepted practices in science teaching.

Mentees needs change over time, and as they develop, may require a different combination of support. Mentors that can identify the types of support a mentee requires may be able to provide guidance that addresses the mentees' need or refer the mentee to the appropriate resource for additional support.

Strategies for working with mentees

There are several ideas to keep in mind when mentoring beginning science teachers. Engaging in conversations that promotes a student-centered frame-of-mind is essential to foster inquiry-based instruction. For effective mentoring to occur, men-tors of beginning teachers should consider the following:


• Listen to the mentee with empathy and intention. It is important to listen without interruption so the mentee can fully express his/her thoughts in a safe space. Do acknowledge what has been shared to reinforce that the concerns are valid.

• Listen to the mentee and refrain from immediately offering advice or resolutions. This is an opportunity to guide your mentees to construct their own solution with a student-centered frame-of-mind.
• Prompt the mentee to reflect upon practices, strategies, and evidence of student learning. Make sure mentees identify successful instances in the classroom that fostered engagement with science, such as connecting claims with evidence.

• Keep conversations positive and constructive by maintaining focus on student learning of science. Mentees need to express frustrations and concerns, but make sure the conversation also includes reflection on what was learned, and how to move forward toward student-centered instruction.

• Beginning teachers often identify classroom management issues as the cause of issues in the classroom. This can shift the focus away from student learning and thinking. Mentors can guide mentees to place emphasis on student discourse and science learning by helping mentees to incorporate culturally relevant examples in science and implement meaningful lessons. This may reduce many classroom management issues.

• Quick visits to the mentee's classroom are a great way to check-in, but make sure to dedicate substantial time to meeting with the mentee one-on-one. Mentees need quality time and a safe space to engage in discussions, ask questions, and plan high-quality science lessons.

• Become familiarized with the mentee's specific student population to better guide mentees in formulating practical resolutions. For example, mentors can suggest relevant resources that may meet science content objectives and language proficiency needs of specific students.

• Model reflective thinking and practices that promote inquiry-based instruction. Consider planning time for the mentee to observe the mentor's instruction or co-teach lessons together. Also, schedule time to provide thorough and meaningful feedback on the mentee's independent instruction that focus on student learning and inquiry-based practices.

• Follow up with mentees regarding instructional experiences, questions and challenges that were shared during previous discussions. Reflect upon the outcomes, implementation of strategies, and how to make lessons even more effective in the future.


Mentors play a critical role in the professional development of new science teachers. Mentors can guide novice teachers to hold student­-centered views, and provide the support that addresses specific needs of mentees. Ultimately, supporting beginning science teachers' can increase their development of confidence, skills, practices, and knowledge so that they become even more effective practitioners who meet the academic needs of all students.



Bell, R., Smetana, L., & Binns, I. (2005). Simplifying inquiry instruction. The Science Teacher. 72(7): 30-33.

Ingersoll, R. M., (2012). Beginning teacher induction: What the data tell us. Phi Delta Kappan, 93(8),47-51.

Ingersoll, R. M., & Strong, M. (2011). The impact of induction and mentoring programs for beginning teachers: A critical review of the research. Review of Educational Research/ 81 (2), 201-233 .

Luft, J. A., Bang, E. J., & Roehrig, G. H. (2007). Supporting beginning science teachers. The Science Teacher. 74(5): 24-29.

Luft, J. A., Firestone, J. B., Wong, S. 5., Ortega, I., Adams, K., & Bang, E. J. (2011). Beginning secondary science teacher induction: A two-year mixed methods study. Journal of Research in Science Teaching. 49(10): 1199-1224.

NGSS Lead States. (20 13). Next Generation Science Standards: For states, by states. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
National Science Teachers Association. (2004). NSTA position statement: Scientific inquiry. Washington, DC:
Wong, S. SOl Firestone, J. 8., Luft, J. A., & Weeks, C. B. (2013).
Beginning Secondary Science Teachers' Laboratory Practices:
A Five-Year Study. Science Educator, 22(1), 1-9.

The Science Teachers Association of Texas



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