In the last 25 years, 30 states have passed legislation that requires school districts to provide new teacher induction programs, but only 16 of them pay for it. And today’s tough economic times across the country are threatening some of those.
Districts that provide such programs, whether they are mandated or not, have realized positive results—fewer new teachers leave, and teaching skills are developed and improved.
Legislators and academics recognize mentoring as a strategy for boosting student achievement and a key tool for reducing the exodus of new teachers in urban schools, nearly half of whom leave before reaching their fifth year, according to Michael Knapp of the University of Washington.
Last spring, the Illinois State Board of Education recommended that legislators allocate $11 million to pay for a required two-year mentoring program for new teachers. (A law mandating the new teacher induction program was signed this summer.) But funding was cut in the final state budget.
At best, the national landscape for mentoring is “uneven and muddied,” observes Barnett Berry, director of the Southeast Center for Teaching Quality. The following are snapshots of the national terrain for model programs to support new teachers.
Program doubles retention
One of the more successful programs is in Lafourche Parish Public Schools and it was recently adopted as a model for the entire state. Since 1996, when the program began, Lafourche Parish’s annual teacher retention rate has increased from 50 percent to 93 percent. Test scores and the number of qualified teachers in the district of more than 15,000 students have risen, too. The cost of the district’s program, which continues through teachers’ third year on the job, runs $50,000 a year.
Nearly 80 new teachers enter the school district each year. “We assume they don’t know how to teach,” says Annette Breaux, who coordinates the induction program in Thibodaux, La.
But Breaux says the system addresses the novices’ lack of knowledge in an intensive four-day orientation in August that is a “crash course in classroom teaching and effective management.”
Once school begins, mentors observe new teachers every nine weeks, and help them develop individual improvement plans to use as self-evaluation tools. New teachers have daily access to on-site curriculum support, monthly meetings with peers, and a full-day retreat in April.
Each of these activities emphasizes integrating the new teachers into the school community—an approach that some novices find surprising, Breaux says. “The biggest punch initially is that people are welcomed with open arms,” she says.
3 years required
This year, Delaware adopted one of the strongest new teacher support programs. For the first time, districts are required to provide mentors for new teachers during the first three years on the job.
This commitment is one of the nation’s longest, according to Mary Ellen Kotz, who oversees professional accountability for the Delaware Department of Education. For every first-year teacher, Delaware spends $1,700 on mentor stipends, consultants’ fees and district grants, Kotz says, and nearly $2 million on the program.
Initially piloted in three districts in 1994, Delaware’s one-year mentoring and induction program expanded to each of the state’s 19 districts by 1999. The new law added an additional two years of mentoring and expanded the mandate to 13 charter schools. First-year teachers must attend regional district level workshops, observe experienced teachers, and spend 30 hours a year with their mentors.
Delaware’s program is unusual in that it mentors administrators and it defines school nurses, counselors, librarians and school psychologists as teachers. Since its inception, the program has produced plenty of anecdotal reports that document its impact, but “no hard data,” says Susan Fioravanti, a lead mentor in the Colonial School District in New Castle County.
Mentoring has been required for more than two decades in Oklahoma, but this year mentors will be working for free. Legislators in Oklahoma have already informed mentors that they have slashed the budget by $1 million.
In the past, mentors have received stipends of up to $500 per year, says Ramona Paul, assistant state superintendent, who expects the payments to resume next year.
The program was largely viewed as a success. Created by the state’s Teacher Reform Act of 1980, the mentor program was first implemented during the 1982-83 school year. While the state does not collect data on the program, surveys of first-year teachers have shown positive results, according to Linda Ruhman, director of the state’s Resident Teacher Program.
A committee comprised of a mentor, an administrator and a representative of a teacher education institution guide beginning teachers. The committee meets three times a year, and each member observes the new teacher in the classroom three times. At the end of the teacher’s first year, the committee decides whether to award the teacher certification or require a second year in the resident program.
Big state, big spending
In California, state and local monies combine for one of the most extensive mentoring programs in the country—each incoming teacher automatically enters a two-year mentoring program.
Districts receive more than $3,400 per new teacher from the state to spend on assessment and training materials, and to hire substitute teachers to fill in when new teachers are collaborating with colleagues or taking professional development classes. Each school district is required to kick in another $2,000 worth of teacher supplies and services. On a per-teacher basis, California’s program is the most expensive in the nation, says Jaymee Kjelland, a consultant for the California Department of Education.
Statewide retention rates for first- and second-year teachers rose to 91 percent by the end of the 1990s, say department officials.
But since then, the program has struggled to maintain quality while serving the rapidly growing number of uncertified teachers who were hired since the state legislature mandated reducing class size, says Ellen Moir, director of the New Teacher Center at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
The New Teacher Center mentors about 600 novice teachers each year and studies best practices in teacher induction, but is not connected to the state’s new teacher program.
Career ladder, mentors retain more new teachers
In Rochester, a district with 36,500 students and 3,600 teachers, mentoring is tied to decisions about whether to keep new teachers.
Each mentor, responsible for one to four new teachers, observes his or her charges as many as 45 times per year, according to Martha Keating, first vice-president of the Rochester Teachers Association. To compensate them, mentors are released from up to half of their teaching load, or receive an additional 10 percent pay. Rochester attempts to match every first-year teacher with a mentor, but is not required to do so. Mentors may work with teachers during their second year if necessary.
Along with district administrators and input of mentors, Rochester has devised a four-step career ladder in which teachers move through intern, resident, permanently certified and professional stages. Keating says the system retains 80 percent of its mentored teachers.
Since its inception in 1987, union and school district officials have joined together to make the program work, Keating adds. A panel composed of six members of the teachers union and six school district officials, reviews principal and mentor evaluations of first-year teachers. If a principal wants to fire a new teacher and the mentor disagrees, the panel discusses subsequent options for the teacher. Often, interns who are doing poorly at one school are given a second chance at another school, where many have “gone on to be very successful,” Keating notes.
Susan Villani, senior program associate at WestEd, a federally funded education research center, says mentors who are also evaluators face two challenges.
Their dual role could “make it more difficult to have a trusting relationship,” says Villani, who wrote the book “Mentoring Programs for New Teachers: Models of Induction and Support.” At the same time, the mentor’s relationship with a new teacher could make it difficult for them to say the novice is not doing a good job.
More retained, released
As in Rochester, N.Y., sometimes teachers can be tougher on each other than outsiders. The Columbus Education Association steps in when its teachers are not teaching effectively, according to President John Grossman. But first-year teachers also receive support through graduate courses at Ohio State University that are tailored to their individual needs.
The school district dismisses up to 7 percent of first-year teachers annually for poor performance—far more than district officials fired when it had sole responsibility for teacher evaluation, Grossman says.
But Columbus, which participates in the Peer Assistance and Review program, also retains as many as 80 percent of new teachers every year, he notes.
Every first-year teacher is observed at least 20 times by a mentor, generally a colleague who teaches the same subject and grade level. After each observation, the mentor gives the new teacher written feedback, and meets with him or her to discuss interactions with students and teaching strategies.
The regular first-hand observations usually guarantee that principals and union members will agree on whether to keep or fire the new teachers by the end of the year, Grossman says.
Full-time teacher, part-time schedule
Collaboration between one high school in the Minneapolis School District, the teachers union and the University of Minnesota has produced a unique teacher residency program.
After graduation, about 15 residents have an opportunity to carry a lighter teaching load while earning full-time pay. Their modified schedule calls for them to spend 60 percent of their time teaching class, and the rest of their time preparing lessons and taking professional development courses.
Beginning teachers receive regular support from a school mentor, other new teachers and the school’s principal, says Steve Yussen, dean of the university’s College of Education and Human Development. It seems to make a difference. The tiny program has an 82 percent retention rate over a 12-year period, and now, about a third of the high school’s 100 teachers are former residents, Yussen says.
Teacher stability is a key factor for students’ success, he notes. “There’s a fair amount of information that shows schools that beat the odds … have [similar] characteristics,” he said. “One of them is stability.”
Jeff Kelly Lowenstein is a freelance writer.