Compliments are always nice to receive. They are even nicer when they come from someone you respect and admire. That’s what happened recently, when I was forwarded a video of a talk by Charlotte Danielson in which she referred to New Teacher Center as offering a high-rigor program. High-quality, mentor-based teacher induction has been the hallmark of NTC’s work for many years and it is great to have this recognized publicly.
I think it is time we talked more about the quality of the support programs being offered to new teachers. I’m concerned that the difference between a low- and high-quality teacher induction program and the respective impact of each may not be fully understood by many school districts. Let me explain.
When I founded NTC, back in 1998, teacher induction programs were few and far between. Fortunately, today nearly 75 percent of beginning teachers now participate in an induction program, and 80 percent report having a mentor, according to a report published by Learning Forward. Why then are we still failing to stem the tide of new recruits who choose to leave?
The answer lies in the inconsistent quality of these programs. Many programs remain just a ”buddy” system that affords a new teacher emotional support and a shoulder to cry on if necessary. While helpful, they provide an incomplete level of support. NTC has long advocated that these are the programs we should be moving away from.
Other programs simply familiarize a new teacher with district policies and procedures and school facilities but do not address the all important classroom teaching practice – teachers being the biggest school-based determinant of student success.
And those programs that do include a mentoring component and professional development may still lack rigor. For example, there may not be a rigorous selection process for the mentors. Mentors should not be selected based solely on years of experience teaching, but on talent and results. Similarly, the professional development provided to mentors may be insufficient. Too often, it is just a half-day or short workshop at the start of the year. The switch from teaching students to coaching adults is substantial and brings with it many new challenges that cannot be fully explored in such a limited timeframe. Compare this, for example, with New Teacher Centers’ Mentor Academy series that, in the first year alone, helps master teachers build a critical foundation of knowledge and skills during four three-day workshops over the course of the year and is complemented by ongoing Mentor Forums. These workshops and forums equip mentors with the skills they need to advance the classroom practice of their mentees and to help beginning teachers to develop the habits and dispositions of mind that will make them future teacher leaders.
Similarly, the time for mentors to work with beginning teachers one-to-one to reflect on classroom challenges and possible solutions varies widely by program. Research shows that student achievement improves when mentors are either partially or fully released from their classroom duties to focus on their new role, when mentor and beginning teacher interactions are frequent and when the program is at least two-years long. The findings of our own Induction Survey confirm strong correlations between the frequency of mentor/mentee interactions and the perceived impact on teacher effectiveness.
Just listen to these beginning teachers talk about the difference having a mentor made for their students’ success to fully understand the power of a well-designed program.
Districts and schools also need to make time available for beginning teachers to learn from and observe their mentor and other exemplary teachers, provide opportunities for collaboration with colleagues and access to other teacher leaders and instructional resources.
Providing each new teacher with a dedicated mentor and necessary time and supports is not an expense, but an investment given that teacher turnover costs an average $2.2 billion a year. Yet, still few states have the policies and funding to drive such improvements. It is time to rectify this situation. A starting point would be for the 700 districts who plan to apply, to build high quality teacher induction into their applications for Race to the Top funding.
High-quality assures an induction program will get the desired results in terms of new teacher practice, retention and student achievement and it is something districts, program and education leaders and policymakers should be striving towards.