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District Profile

Keeping New Teachers Happy

Putnam County (Ga.) School System

Administrators at Putnam County Elementary School in Eatonton, Ga., are an ambitious group, and they don't want any first-year teachers to fail. In fact, school leaders are providing new teachers with nearly all they need to succeed.

Weeks before the first day of school, new teachers undergo a week long comprehensive induction program. It provides a range of support, from mentoring to organizing and setting up a classroom, to even addressing needs such as who to call to find a missing or tardy paycheck.

While programs for new teachers are commonplace, Putnam County's approach takes it to a new level. And because it only comprises three schools, the program works a bit easier.

Attention to Details: In addition to providing mentors, Putnam County's week long series of workshops offers training on disciplining students, meeting parents, and working with the principal. It also includes meetings with the superintendent, district staff and veteran teachers to discuss teaching methods, and tours of the residential areas where students live.

But what really sets the program apart is that Putnam County Elementary School Principal Susan Usry, Ed.D., and her staff hand pick students who will be in each new teacher's classroom. New teachers have small classes with no more than 16 students. There are no new students in any of the classes with new teachers except in kindergarden. And the classes of first-year and new teachers have the fewest number, if any, of students with behavioral problems. "There's still ethnic, racial and academic diversity," Usry says. "There are enough issues that a first-year teacher has to deal with. We don't want the makeup of the kids to be a major negative factor of the teacher's job. We want them to be able to focus on appropriate instruction and assessment of the student's work."

Meeting Teachers' Needs: Usry has been organizing the induction program for the past three years at the elementary school, but this school year marks the first year the district's middle and high schools are participating in the program, which often begins two weeks before the start of school. Usry had the idea for the induction program from her own experience with a mentor when she became a principal in Oconee County, Ga.

"Nothing is more challenging than that first year of teaching, no matter how much student teaching someone has done or theory classes they've taken. When they're in the classroom by themselves, with their students, it's just overwhelming," says Usry. "They need help to get through it and especially so they'll want to continue in the profession."

Keeping More Teachers: The induction program and Usry's approach to working with new educators has helped retain teachers. Since becoming principal in 2002, Usry has hired 30 new teachers and only four have left-two to be stay-at-home moms and two of whom Usry asked to leave.

Learning the Ins & Outs: The program has certainly made a difference for teacher Jamie Washburn, who had taught for two years before working at Putnam County Elementary. But her experience was so frustrating that she wanted to leave the profession. Instead, she transferred to Putnam County Elementary and went from having 31 students in her third grade class to about 20. "You feel like you're surrounded with support from the moment you arrive, and that makes a huge difference," says Washburn, who is now a mentor. Her mentee, Christine Ezzard, says the program, coupled with the induction sessions, gave her a jumpstart on her experience in the classroom. "Even if you student teach, like I did here, I still needed help with payroll and benefits and writing progress reports and the online grade books," says Ezzard. "I learned all about these things from Ms. Washburn and the workshop session last summer. It was a huge help."

Lucille Renwick is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.