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Mentor & Intern Teacher Boundary Practices: Integrating Theory and Practice in Effective Alternative Certification Programs


Alternative certification programs for primary and secondary school teachers face a difficult challenge: they must develop highly qualified and high quality teachers while adapting to the unique on-the-job training needs of their participants. Research literature indicates that many programs suffer from a lack of cohesion between coursework and fieldwork, with a resulting sense of fragmentation on the part of participating teachers. The literature points to relevant and applied coursework combined with mentoring as possible remedies. However, little in the research literature describes the actual mentor practices and program design features that can accomplish this integration. This study addresses that gap, describing mentor practices and program design elements that foster theory and practice integration in effective alternative certification programs. Utilizing a cross case study design, I studied four mentor-novice pairs in two alternative teacher credential programs. Drawing conceptually on the theoretical literature on situated learning in communities of practice, I develop a means of categorizing mentor and novice practices as planned integration boundary practices, emergent integration boundary practices, program practices, and school site practices.

I found that the mentors in this study, to varying degrees and with varying consistency, engaged in boundary practices that assisted novices in connecting coursework with fieldwork. Integration was most pronounced when mentors used their knowledge of the program's practices, their knowledge of classroom instruction generally, and their novice's instruction and teaching context specifically, to capitalize on opportunities for integration. Mentors made both spontaneous and structured connections between instruction and school site demands on the one hand; and coursework, assignments, and program conceptions of effective teaching on the other hand. Mentor practices were shaped by the design of the programs in several ways, including: programs sparing use of prescribed activities, intentional inclusion of mentors in the program community, flexible and adaptive protocols guiding mentor and novice interactions, and relevant and applied coursework. These conclusions have implications for program leaders seeking to foster deeper integration between theory and practice in alternative teacher certification programs.

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