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Mentoring and Support

to help students progress toward degree, certification, and retention in the profession, supported by a strong student community

Successful programs usually provide:

  1. Mentoring to support progress toward a physics degree,
  2. Mentoring specifically toward becoming a physics teacher (ideally from a well-informed faculty advisor), and
  3. Support for retention in the physics teaching profession with mentoring and professional development for local in-service physics teachers.

Strategies for Effective Mentoring and Support

The first step we recommend in each of these areas is to complete the PTEPA Rubric. That will help you determine your strengths and weaknesses, as well as what types of strategies are relevant for your institution.

Mentoring to Support Progress Toward a Physics Degree

Build a student physics community. Having a physical space (such as a lounge) and central organization (such as an active Society of Physics Students (SPS) chapter) for students to seek peer support in physics promotes communal learning and degree persistence.

Ensure students have access to advising that is tailored to their interests. Faculty should be aware of the numerous career paths available to physics majors and introduce all of them to their advisees. If a student shows interest in a particular path, that interest should be encouraged and supported.

Make mentoring a major component of your Learning Assistant program. Mentoring is one of the ways you can enhance your Learning Assistants' experience beyond that of a conventional Teaching Assistant.

Mentoring Toward Becoming a Physics Teacher

Ensure that all beginning teachers have an experienced physics teacher mentor. Many of the challenges of physics teaching are unique to the discipline, and can only be addressed by someone experienced in the area. A Teacher in Residence or your more experienced graduates may be the best fit for mentoring positions.

Form a Teacher Advisory Group (TAG). TAGs consist of local physics teachers and meet to advise faculty on effective practices for preparing new teachers. TAGs can also provide a way for preservice teachers to plug into a local network of practicing teachers and often provide induction for new teachers.

Use early teaching experiences to prepare your pre-service teachers for student teaching. Students who have spent time teaching as well as observing will be better prepared for student teaching. Implement a Learning Assistant program. Start youth outreach programs that expose students to multiple grade levels. Invite practicing teachers to guide the design of these experiences. This may include the hiring of a Teacher in Residence. Explore other strategies for giving students early teaching experiences.

Use formative assessment as a mentoring tool. Instruments like the Reformed Teaching Observation Protocol (RTOP) can provide a basis for discussions about teaching methods. Persistent student difficulties can be highlighted by conceptual assessments like the Force Concept Inventory. Be sure to emphasize that the purpose of assessment is to help the teacher hone their craft, not to "grade" the teacher's performance.

Retention in the Physics Teaching Profession

Develop a professional learning community. Most physics teachers are the only ones in their school. A professional learning community reduces their isolation and increases persistence in the profession. A university is a natural setting around which the community can grow, and meetings can be coupled with other professional development opportunities. This can be part of a new or existing TAG (see above) or a different group.

Involve your preservice and graduated teachers in professional societies. American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) and National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) meetings connect beginning teachers with a vast network of colleagues and a wealth of opportunities for professional growth. If national meetings are unaffordable, state or regional meetings are an option. Similarly, sponsoring a Society of Physics Students can foster supportive professional networks.

Keep distant mentees involved in the support systems you build. Many graduates of teacher preparation programs find jobs that are hours away from where they graduated, but modern communication technology makes effective distance mentoring possible. Look to AAPT’s e-mentoring program as a resource.

Further Reading for Improving Mentoring and Support

  1. Recruiting and Educating Future Physics Teachers (Sandifer and Brewe, 2015)
  2. Transforming the Preparation of Physics Teachers: A Call to Action - T-TEP Final Report (Meltzer, Plisch, and Vokos, 2012)
  3. The Phys21 report (Heron and McNeil, 2016)
  4. SPIN-UP report (Hilborn, Krane, and Howes, 2003)
  5. The APS “Physics Research Mentor Training Seminar

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