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Troubling the taken-for-granted : mentoring relationships among women teachers Thompson, Merrilee Susan

Abstract

This dissertation challenges the traditional patriarchal conception of mentoring, in which mentors are cast as experts and the task for novices is to assimilate their mentors' knowledge and proposes an alternate feminist conception in which mentors and novices are learner-teachers. The conception is based on practices of conversation and shared experience, through which mentoring partners develop trust and reciprocity. Through reciprocity, mentoring dyads move to a practice of thoughtful critique, in which they trouble taken-for-granted structures within schools. Central to feminist mentoring are issues of concern to the teachers involved, including issues of gender, race and culture as experienced in their own lives. To explore the conception of feminist mentoring, a qualitative research study was undertaken. Data about four mentoring dyads and one triad were collected through a series of structured interviews with individuals and pairs of teachers during one school year. The interviews were recorded and transcribed, and the resulting transcripts were analyzed for common themes. It was found that more successful dyads formed on the basis of the beginning teacher's choice and involved considerable time commitment. Successful mentoring dyads participated in frequent conversations, both casual and planned, in which they talked about students, shared resources, and co-planned curriculum. Conversations centred on both work-related and personal issues. The most successful dyad created numerous shared experiences which provided opportunities for the partners to learn reciprocally. Mentoring conversations and shared experiences led to two complementary ways of coming to know about teaching. In percolated learning the beginning teacher came to know based on hearing and thinking about the mentor's experiences. Thoughtful critique is a more deliberate mode of learning in which the mentor and beginning teachers intentionally address issues of common concern. Although there was some evidence of explicit thoughtful critique emerging within the mentorships, critique was expressed tentatively and cautiously. I suggest that the conditions of schools discourage critique and beginning teachers feel discouraged from being overtly critical. Mentoring dyads may need to work together for more than one year to develop a sufficient level of trust to move to a more critical feminist reconception of mentoring that supports and challenges both mentors and beginning teachers.

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