The lessons we learnt: the nature of early professional learning for beginning teachers in Victorian secondary schools through induction and mentoring relationships

Year: 2009

Author: Kirkby, Jane

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Attrition rates for beginning teachers are reported as high globally; with issues surrounding the acquisition of professional knowledge leading many countries to adopt a standards based approach to address the problem. The Victorian Institute of Teaching introduced this approach to full registration for beginning teachers in 2004, supported by school-based formal mentor program.

This phenomenological oriented case study examined the nature of the professional learning that resulted from the interactions that beginning teachers had with both their formal and informal mentors. Qualitative data were analysed using the works of Bourdieu and Wenger as theoretical frameworks to understand the nature of learning as a result of the reported formal and informal mentor relationships.

The results suggest further attention needs to be given to the quality and consistency of the learning experienced by beginning teachers. Time was shown to work as an operant in perpetuating norms of professional isolation, professional autonomy and particular views of knowledge. While some beginning teachers reported strong pedagogical discussions with their formal mentors, others were relying more on trying to access private knowledge through friendship based relationships or clandestine measures. These latter behaviours tend to reinforce the cultural norms of ‘learning to teach’ identified by Lortie (1975), Little (1991) and Moore-Johnson et al (2004, pp139-165).

Given the investment that the Victorian Institute of Teaching has made in the mentor program as an avenue for improving the retention and quality of teachers in their early years of practice, it is suggested that the findings of this study provide an impetus for further investigation into the school-based issues related to mentoring.