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The role of mentoring in early career physics teachers’ professional identity construction

David Cameron (Education Department, Institute of Physics, London, UK)
Anna Grant (Research and Evaluation, AlphaPlus Consultancy Ltd, Manchester, UK)

International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education

ISSN: 2046-6854

Article publication date: 5 June 2017

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to explore the ways in which external subject-specific mentoring can influence the professional identity construction of early career physics teachers (ECPT).

Design/methodology/approach

The methodology evolved from the evaluation of a mentoring project, involving semi-structured interviews with a number of early career teachers. Responses from 18 teachers, which related to the impact of the mentoring relationship on their professional identity development, were subject to a process of iterative thematic coding in the context of interpretative repertoires via a collaborative “developmental dialogue” between the managers of the mentoring project and its external evaluators.

Findings

The analysis of participants’ responses suggested that the nature of the relationship between early career teacher and mentor played a role in the emergence, or suppression, of their professional identities as physics teachers at the start of their teaching careers. In some cases, mentoring provision was little short of a “lifeline” for the teachers.

Practical implications

Mentors need the opportunity to develop their professional practice and identity through contact with the community of teacher educators. The practice of training, mentoring and coaching teachers should be valued at least as much as teaching itself and should be recognised as its own professional practice.

Originality/value

This study builds on a number of well-established pieces of research and concepts relating to the challenges facing early career teachers and their professional identity construction. It provides insight into the challenges facing ECPTs specifically, which includes the risk of isolation and unrealistic expectations from colleagues. It not only confirms the merits of external mentoring, but also demonstrates the significant responsibility, which comes with the mentor’s role and the negative impact on teachers’ professional identity construction caused by deficiencies in mentoring.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The focus of this research was a mentoring project funded by the UK Government’s Department for Education. The authors would like to express their sincere gratitude to Esther T. Canrinus for her support in the preparation of this paper.

Citation

Cameron, D. and Grant, A. (2017), "The role of mentoring in early career physics teachers’ professional identity construction", International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education, Vol. 6 No. 2, pp. 128-142. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJMCE-01-2017-0003

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited