A preceptor (from Latin, "praecepto") is a teacher responsible to uphold a certain law or tradition, a precept.
A preceptor was historically in charge of a preceptory, the headquarters of certain orders of monastic knights, such as the Knights Hospitaller and Knights Templar, within a given geographical area. The preceptor had supreme control of his brethren and was only answerable to the grand master of his particular order. A preceptory's main focus would be its church and accommodation for the brethren.
Examples include the Hospitaller Torphichen Preceptory in West Lothian, Scotland; West Peckham Preceptory in West Peckham, England and the Templar Aslackby Preceptory in Lincolnshire, Keele Preceptory in Staffordshire and Temple, Midlothian.
Within modern-day Freemasonry the preceptor is the head of a lodge of instruction. Such lodges operate within a geographical area and provide training in the performance of the order's ritual for members of the order. The preceptor is an elected position and is usually a Freemason who has spent several years as a director of ceremonies in his local lodge and is considered an expert in the ritual of the order.
In English Freemasonry, the Preceptor of the lodge is usually appointed by the Master. His main responsibility is to prompt those masons who have forgotten their words. Some lodges, and some preceptors, take his theoretical status as a teacher more seriously than others.
Musically, the title preceptor usually refers to a monk responsible for making music in a monastery. He trained the monks in the traditions of plainchant for daily services and prayers.
Some North American universities have a special student position called preceptor. Preceptors are student volunteers who assist the staff professor and teaching assistants of a large lecture class by helping design certain lessons and holding his or her own office hours and review sessions. In some cases, volunteers are required to take an outside class focused on leadership development, where the final grade is determined by both the lecture professor and leadership development teacher. Thus, the preceptor earns credit for his or her preceptorship. It is considered a good leadership experience and reflects well on the student in his or her transcript. Preceptor can also refer to a paid student grader.
At some universities, including Harvard, Cambridge and Oxford, "preceptors" are not students at all but faculty members teaching courses in writing, music, mathematics, languages, and the life sciences. In some departments they are not tenured faculty but rather non-ladder faculty (generally PhDs) who help administer and run the course, especially with the larger ones. Harvard preceptors, who teach introductory writing, have included New Yorker staff writer George Packer, novelist Tom Perrotta, former Globe music critic Richard Dyer and poet Dan Chiasson. At Columbia University, on the other hand, "preceptors" are senior graduate students who, along with senior faculty, teach courses on "Literature Humanities" and "Contemporary Civilization". The title is also used to refer to teaching assistants at Princeton, who are typically graduate students.
At Elon University School of Law, a preceptor is an attorney who mentors two or three first-year law students.
In medicine, allied health, midwifery, paramedicine, pharmacy and nursing education, a preceptor is a skilled practitioner or faculty member who supervises students in a clinical setting to allow practical experience with patients.