Research validates the importance of teacher mentors

COOKEVILLE – Each semester, students from Tennessee Tech’s College of Education are placed in pre-K through 12th grade classrooms across the state as teacher residents, learning and gaining real classroom experience with seasoned teacher mentors.

“The quality of those mentorships is really important to us,” said Julie Baker, associate dean of Tech’s College of Education. “What our students can gain from being in those classrooms with quality teachers, quality mentors, we believe to be impactful.”

Recently published research agrees with Baker and ongoing research with Tech’s College of Education could shape how teacher mentors are selected.

Tech partnered with the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research as the subject of research examining how mentorships affect teacher quality. For two years CALDER gathered data on teacher mentorship and found that placing teacher residents with mentors projected to be more effective resulted in residents who reported feeling better prepared for leading a classroom.

Typically, teacher mentors are selected based on criteria that look at things like how effective the individual teacher is at helping their students make academic progress and the teacher’s annual evaluation scores.

“Those things are important, but we also believe that a great teacher isn’t necessarily always a great mentor,” Baker said. “We always place our residents in an environment where we feel they can be successful, but we want to spark some thoughtful discussions about the importance of these mentorships.”

The university’s office of teacher education worked with CALDER to collect the data on nearly 400 pairs of teacher mentors and residents.

“Our findings provide evidence that teacher education can have a causal effect on the development of teacher candidates and it offers practical implications for programs and districts about how to use administrative data to inform internship placement decisions,” the CALDER report states.

Tech, which was already working with Tennessee’s Network for Educator Preparation Partnerships to foster strong relationships with partner school districts, has the largest number of partners in the state with more than 50 district partners. These strong relationships prompted the Tennessee Department of Education to recommend Tech as a research participant for CALDER.

Now, the state department is working to collect similar data of its own. With the state department’s help, Tech could see a connection between teacher mentorships and long-term success of career teachers, something that has not previously been examined.

Ultimately, the results could relieve some misconceptions about mentorship, give partner districts guidance in selecting mentors for residents and student teachers, and influence coaching and new training practices for mentors.

“These efforts will give us evidence to demonstrate qualities of high quality mentors for our teacher candidates,” Baker said.

And the evidence suggests better mentors build better teachers.

To learn more about the CALDER findings, visit

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