If At First...
In a new millennium with a new federal mandate to leave no child behind, there's one constant for teachers: The need for new teachers to be nurtured, trained and treated with the respect a professional deserves.
The New Teacher Center at the University of California at Santa Cruz does just that. The center, established in 1998, is not so new anymore, but its core focus is--that new teachers need individualized support from full-time mentors. The center expanded from the Santa Cruz New Teacher
Project, which was established in 1988 as a pilot program for new teachers in several California school districts.
The center's program now reaches more than 100 school districts in California and 21 other states. Its main theory is by guiding new teachers and lessening their stress, more of them will remain in the profession. This, in turn, should improve student achievement.
It's working. Almost 9 out of 10 new teachers (88 percent) supported by the project remain teachers after six years, compared to the national retention rate of 67 percent after five years. The benefits go deeper. Nearly three-quarters of students who have new teachers made achievement gains when the intensive mentoring model was used. In two districts with less intensive support, less than half the students showed achievement gains.
"Whether it's in a rural or urban setting, we're seeing a huge increase in teacher retention," says Ellen Moir, executive director of the New Teacher Center. "But I don't think that's the most important aspect. We're seeing reports from principals, mentors and student achievement data [that show] the students of these new teachers are being successful."
The power behind the center's concept is how individualized the help is to each new teacher, just as teaching is becoming so individualized to each student's needs. "We're learning that teachers learn best when the learning is connected to their own perceived needs and classroom contexts," Moir says.
The New Teacher Center grew out of the California New Teacher Project, established when many California teachers were fleeing in their first three to five years, Moir says. There was a "gap" between what new teachers learned in pre-service programs and what they faced upon entering the classroom--long hours, student behavior problems and coping with demands of students, other teachers, parents and administrators. The California Department of Education and California Commission on Teacher Credentialing launched the four-year pilot program to foster new teacher development approaches. School districts and other education experts devised the programs. The training started in 12 districts and results were immediate--better teacher retention as well as improved student motivation.
The success led to legislation that made the program statewide. The project's staff helped develop the California Standards for the Teaching Profession, which establish what teachers should know and do to be effective. California provides about $3,500 for every first- and second-year teacher and districts contribute at least $2,000. Districts in other states have to cover the $6,000 cost per teacher.
The New Teacher Center program extends from Alaska, where educators are seeking the model for a statewide program, to New York City.
What separates the New Teacher Center from other professional development programs is the full-time release for mentor teachers. Many districts have a buddy program where veteran teachers visit new teachers' classrooms a few times a year and give feedback. "That's a bit old-fashioned, and it disempowers talented teachers," Moir says.
The center's program requires mentor teachers take on 13 to 15 new teachers. These mentors help the new teachers plan lessons, set goals, and offer tips and solutions to their specific concerns.
When the center sets up a program, it clearly states the responsibilities of each party. It also helps districts to select and train mentors. High quality teachers who understand professional content standards and have strong interpersonal skills tend to make successful mentors.
Before the school year starts, new teachers gather for orientation while mentors work with department chairs to review student content standards by grade or subject area. Mentor teachers get to know the new teacher informally. Some new teachers are hesitant or simply don't want someone overseeing their work. Mentors are trained to show them they are allies--not the principal's or superintendent's assistants.
Mentors are in each new teacher's classroom once a week to observe, assess and give feedback regarding the lessons and interaction with students. They also co-teach and demonstrate lessons.
-Tezella Cline, mentor-coach, Charlotte-Mecklenburg (N.C.) School District
The teacher development model, or the NTC Formation Assessment System, includes tools to promote teacher skills. New teachers work with mentors to develop an Individualized Learning Plan to establish their focus for improvement. They use a Collaborative Assessment Log to record and explain what is and isn't working in the classroom. Mentors also have teachers take a mental survey of their students and build lessons around that. Who are my students? What do they bring? What are their needs?
And every Friday, mentor teachers undergo three hours of professional development, to keep them up to date on the foundations of mentoring, teacher assessment and observation strategies.
At mid-year, new teachers take another look at the learning plan, including goals in six standard areas, and re-adjust their practice in light of any progress.
"I don't believe we have a recruitment problem in this country. We have a retention problem. It's because we haven't built collaborative learning conditions where teachers can thrive," Moir says. "This program reinvigorates the whole profession and models for the profession what we want for all of us--ongoing continuing support to build the best teacher a teacher can be."
New teachers eventually see that they can have students assess their own writing skills and set their own goals, as they do for their mentors. "They see the power of their own model," Moir says.
Making Class Easier
A $25,000 Goldman Sachs Foundation grant put the Charlotte-Mecklenburg (N.C.) School District on the teacher retention map. New teacher retention in schools where mentoring was in place was nearly 83 percent after the first year, compared to 68 percent for the entire district.
Three years ago, the 109,000-student urban district started with nine mentors. It now has 40 people on staff, 26 of whom are full-time mentors in the Department of Instructional Excellence. The department combines three programs: The full-time release Mentor Model; the Teacher Academy Model, a professional development-based program; and the Academic Content Coach Model, which has coaches who focus on four major content areas.
As a mentor coach for new teachers, Tezella Cline says new teachers "really value having someone who will listen." New teachers appreciate "having someone not telling them what to do, but helping them think through options." Mentors are trained to ask new teachers, "What can I do to make this class easier?"
As a mentor, most of Cline's time is spent in classrooms--modeling strategies or helping teachers. She aims to eventually guide new teachers' thinking so they can identify their own weaknesses.
New teachers are gratified by their mentors, often finding them a good person to vent to and someone who can help devise academic strategies, says Rosebud Turner, the department director who also created the Teacher Academy Model.
The department's three programs show great potential. Not only are more teachers staying on the job, but in one year Charlotte middle school students in classes of teachers using the teacher academy or academic content coach models showed significant gains on end-of-grade tests in English, math, social studies and science, Turner says.
Fine-tuning in Colorado
It was time for a change in Mapleton.
Mapleton Public Schools, a suburb with pockets of poverty and many English language learners just outside Denver, had a buddy system for at least five years. But something better was out there, and Jackie Kapushion, Mapleton's director of professional development, knew it. In Colorado, every new teacher undergoes an induction program in order to earn a professional license after three years in the classroom. So Kapushion actually created her own full-time release mentor program for new teachers to help them earn that license. She scrambled through books, magazine articles, lectures and the Internet to gather information and strategies.
In the first year, 2001-02, two mentor coaches were hired to handle 100 new teachers out of 339 teachers on staff. Mentors observed the teachers in their classrooms twice a month. The following year, two more mentors came on board to oversee 80 new teachers. By cutting the mentor caseload in half, "we started seeing results," Kapushion says.
Then in December 2002, mentor Sally VanWelden met Janet Gless from the New Teacher Center at a national conference and later mentioned the center and its program to Kapushion. Although Mapleton already had a mentor model in place, Kapushion faced her biggest challenge at the time--"How do I train the mentor coaches for all different teachers, for all different grade levels, for all different content areas?" Kapushion recalls thinking. "We had the structure in place that the New Teacher Center supported. What we didn't have was the fine-tuning to be really good and effective."
The New Teacher Center was the answer and the Carnegie Foundation offered a grant to Mapleton schools to pay for mentor coaches' fees and travel expenses to various learning centers seven times over two years, including to Santa Cruz, Birmingham and Houston school districts, where programs are also in place.
In training sessions, mentors learn to give observations based on data, not opinion. For example, instead of telling new teachers, "Kids need to raise their hands more," mentors can tell new teachers that 42 children called out answers without raising their hands within a half hour, Kapushion says.
This year, only 50 new teachers started in Mapleton, meaning the teacher turnover rate was halved in just two years, Kapushion says. "We're also seeing better instruction."
VanWelden, formerly a teacher for 33 years, says her days as a mentor are less regimented than they were as a teacher, as she constantly juggles meetings and class times with 14 new teachers in five schools across the small district. She can work as early as 7:30 a.m. and as late as 8 p.m. and wouldn't trade it for anything. She lost one teacher last year, and that's success to her. "They are becoming more independent; they are confident; they are participating in decision-making groups at their schools which is another goal we have--that teachers will become leaders on their own," VanWelden says.
"I'm hopeful for the future of education because of these guys," she says about new teachers. "They're coming in with more skills, understanding the differences in kids and ... we're doing a lot as mentors to reinforce that and help them."
It's hard enough for a new teacher to take control of a classroom and lead students every day. But when that inevitable time arrives each fall--parent conferences--teachers are faced with another daunting challenge. Not only do they now have to speak to a room full of adults, to get the most out of their students they must also get these parents to take an active interest in their children's education.
Luckily, the New Teacher Center has a plan. As part of its full-time mentor program, mentors teach new teachers how to talk to parents to get their best cooperation and understanding. Staying positive is the key to a healthy relationship with parents. New teachers are coached to:
Forget sitting at the teacher's desk. It only separates the teacher from the parent. Sit next to parents so they feel welcome and warm.
Refrain from speaking in general about positive aspects of the child, but rather, how that child is as a student, academically.
Speak on positive terms about the student initially, but then explain the challenges or weaknesses of the child. And state the objective, says Rosebud Turner, director of the instructional excellence department at Charlotte-Mecklenburg (N.C.) School District: "This is where I want to take this child."
Use hard data to show parents the child's strengths and weaknesses, such as essays, test results or art work.
Ask parents how they can help the teacher. Turner says a teacher could ask, for example, "Is there something I might need to know" about the child or the home life to help improve the child's success? Such a question can give a parent or caretaker something to think about to help their own child succeed in school.
Angela Pascopella is features editor.