Educators acknowledge that the support of new teachers in our school communities is important work for administrators and returning faculty. One of the Center for Teaching’s core initiatives has been the support of a mentor program designed to create a culture of mentoring at Drew Charter School and The Westminster Schools. We have piloted training programs for experienced Westminster teachers who mentor new teachers in their first two years, using materials from the New Teacher Center at the University of California-Santa Cruz. In addition, the CFT is partnering with Westminster’s Dean of Faculty to run a 2011 summer workshop on mentoring. In addition, we work with six experienced teachers, three from each school, who mentor our teaching fellows, helping them learn how to become a good teacher, as well as practice the craft under close supervision.
In our teaching fellowship program, we meet regularly with mentors to discuss the progress being made in the classroom. Using Hal Portner’s book, Mentoring New Teachers, we learn how to finetune the skills that lead to a successful mentor-mentee experience. In the text, he writes about the four functions of a mentor:
From our experience at the CFT, the relationship between the mentor and the mentee is the most critical factor. If the relationship is positive, supportive, rich in feedback, and contains a strong bond of trust, the outcomes for the new teacher and mentor are always met. Portner’s other three functions are critically important but do not trump the need for a strong relationship. In mentor training, it is extremely important to help experienced teachers develop their ability to build a trusting relationship.
It is clear from research that the quality of the teacher is the single most important criteria in educational reforms that lead to improved student achievement. Here are a few references that speak directly to this point.
- Teacher Quality, 2004 article in Education Week
- Student Achievement in Mathematics and Teacher Quality, 2009 study sponsored by PDK International
- Center for Public Education, references on the relationship between teacher quality and student achievement
Therefore, it is the responsibility of each school to educate new teachers into the school’s culture, help them transition into their varied responsibilities, and facilitate the development of successful classroom strategies to meet the educational needs of diverse learners. A strong mentor program can serve as the path towards achieving these goals. All to often, schools give new teachers the textbook, classroom, students, and a few words of wisdom as they set them on their journey through their first year. The journey is full of landmines and hurdles, most of which are manageable, but new teachers are generally not given the support to navigate around them. We need to do better.
In the next ten years of the 21st century we will need roughly two million new teachers in the United States (see report by Darling-Hammond and Berry: Recruiting Teachers for the 21st Century: The Foundation for Educational Equity). However, thirty percent of new teachers leave the profession within their first three years and up to fifty percent leave within five years. In fact, some of the brightest and most able leave the earliest. Teach for America loses almost fifty percent of their teaching interns after their two-year internship. In a 2009 article in USA Today, Teach for America: Elite Corps or Costing Older Teachers Jobs, only 29% of TFA teachers remain in the classroom. Finally, the research shows that the highest rates of attrition are in the most challenging locations. The single most important reason why this attrition of new teachers is so high has to do with the lack of support and mentoring they receive while in the classroom.
The New Teacher Center at the University of California-Santa Cruz has developed a program for training faculty who will mentor new teachers. Their program has proven to be successful in helping new teachers transition into the profession, helping them do a good job. The program’s goal is to train experienced teachers to help
instill in novice teachers the professional habits of mind that lead to a sense of professional effectiveness, not discouragement.
New teacher induction and support programs, like the one developed at the New Teacher Center, yield: (1) increased teacher retention; (2) improved practice; and (3) improved student achievement. See an article in their journal, Reflections, on the impact of mentoring on new teacher induction. In this YouTube video from the New Teacher Center, new teachers share some personal stories about how mentoring has helped them succeed.
Mentoring new teachers is difficult and multifaceted work that involves learning and using skills that are sometimes undeveloped in experienced teachers. Ongoing support and training of mentors are critical components to successfully working with novice teachers. The Center for Teaching is committed to providing that support and training at Drew and Westminster through a comprehensive program. Charlotte Danielson, a renowned educator who has written extensively on the value of mentoring, has found that mentoring helps new teachers confront their challenges. As a result of reflective activities, professional conversations, and guided instruction they improve their teaching practices while they transition into their role as a full-time teacher.