Supporting New Teachers
Although many first- and second-year teachers will put on a brave face for their colleagues and administrators, a glimpse of professional woes can be found by browsing beginning teachers' online message boards.
"I had so little support," says one first year teacher on teachers.net's Beginning Teachers chat board. Despite repeated requests for a lesson demonstration to help her understand the district's complex reading program, the professional development reading coach did not come into her classroom until nearly a month after she failed her first formal reading evaluation. "By January, I was burnt out and stopped handing back homework, stopped asking for any help and stopped caring."
"This was my first job, and I was not receiving any support at all," echoes another first-year teacher, whose contract has not been renewed for the 2007-2008 school year, on the Beginning Teachers chat board. "I struggled with the curriculum. Now that it's starting to make sense, I'm not getting the chance to prove that I can do the job."
Chances are, your district has heard similar complaints during exit interviews for years.
The Need for Induction Programs
When faced with the traditional sinkor-swim induction program, nearly 30 percent of new teachers will sink, leaving the profession within the first three years, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Those who swim often follow a similar pattern of development: "Your first year will be rough," asserts one third-year teacher on the Beginning Teachers chat board. "The second year will be better. By your third year, you should begin to feel like you can make it. My school has no 'new teacher' program. . . . I would like to see more support for new teachers. I think it would make a huge difference."
Education experts agree. Nationwide, teacher induction programs, for the most part, remain "under-conceptualized, under-funded and under-resourced activities," says Barnett Berry, founder and CEO of the Center for Teaching Quality, a research-based advocacy organization. Less than half of the states fund any new teacher induction program, and those that do rarely have all the components necessary for ensuring high quality. "If there's anything that we probably could do and should do to improve the quality of teaching and ensure the stability of the workforce, it is to provide better, more substantive support for our newest teachers," Berry says.
Studies demonstrate the positive effects that strong new teacher induction programs have on attrition rates and student performance. For instance, in Chicago Public Schools, novice elementary school teachers who received strong mentoring were 25 percent more likely to plan to remain in the same school, according to a 2007 report by the Consortium of Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago. Likewise, beginning high school teachers who received other supports, such as regularly scheduled collaboration with other teachers, observation of their teaching with feedback, and the principal's support and encouragement, were 50 percent more likely to remain in their schools than their colleagues who received little or no support.
Superintendent Maria Ann De La Vega notes that Ravenswood City School District in Palo Alto, Calif., went from a 75 percent teacher turnover rate to an 87 percent teacher retention rate within three years of beginning its partnership with the New Teacher Center at the University of California, Santa Cruz, a national nonprofit organization that works with districts to create new teacher and new principal induction programs. In addition, the district is seeing significant gains in student achievement since the program started: The number of students scoring as "proficient" in algebra has doubled, and the schools have seen 100-point gains on state achievement tests.
Fred Williams, executive director of recruitment and retention at Durham Public Schools in North Carolina, has seen similar results using the New Teacher Center model. After the program's first year of implementation, there was a 38 percent decrease in beginning teacher turnover. Also, when the district compared the performance of students taught by veteran teachers with beginning teachers in the program, the results revealed some new teachers demonstrating greater student achievement gains than their more experienced colleagues.
Likewise, after Oakland Unified School District in California introduced its state-funded Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment (BTSA) induction program in 2004, its retention rate rose from 50 to 75 percent. But Lisa Spielman, BTSA induction coordinator, cautions that induction programs are only part of the equation. If there's a lack of student discipline resources available at the school level, then both beginning and experienced teachers alike will feel stressed and burned out.
Analyzing the Costs
For a new teacher induction program to be effective, Ellen Moir, executive director of the New Teacher Center, believes it needs several key components: extensive mentor training and support; contextualized, classroom-based mentoring, including using a formative assessment system to monitor the beginning teacher's growth and development without threatening his or her job security; opportunities for beginning teachers to observe experienced teachers teaching; a chance for beginning teachers to network with each other, share their experiences and develop problem-solving strategies; and professional development for new teachers that includes having a mentor available who can translate the theory into classroom practice.
Although funding an effective program is not cheap, Moir believes that such programs virtually pay for themselves in the first five years. Using actual data for a medium- sized California school district, the New Teacher Center conducted a five year cost-benefit analysis of the induction program. As expected, the district faced significant upfront costs to support its 119 new teachers over the first year. The project cost $6,606 per teacher: the district paid $2,300, the state supplied $3,665 as part of the BTSA program, and the beginning and mentor teachers and principals contributed the equivalent of $640 in total in personal time to participate in after-school meetings.
But the investment has paid off . After five years, data from the center shows that the $13,000 price tag of a two-year program yields about $21,500 in benefits to the student, state, district and society, from the district's recruitment and orientation savings to students' achievement gains, generating an $8,500 return on investment per new teacher.
On average, teachers in an induction program have a 2 percent attrition rate, compared to the state average of 4 percent, and only 17 percent of the benefits came from reducing teacher attrition.
However, nearly half of the benefits came from increasing teacher effective-ness. Further analysis of the students' test scores showed that first- and second-year teachers in the induction program were as effective as fourth-year teachers who had not previously been in the program. Not only do students benefit by having a more effective teacher, but the district receives the equivalent of a fourth-year teacher while paying a beginning teacher's salary.
New teacher induction programs benefit experienced teachers as well, since mentors must participate in extensive training to learn how to meet the needs of adult learners, that is, the new teachers. Instructing and assessing new teachers is very different from teaching 20 first-graders, and teachers with 25 years of classroom experience don't intuitively know how to do it. If the mentors aren't trained, the programs will be far less effective, with the mentors trying to be buddies or simply leaving the new teachers floundering because they don't know how to explain the components of effective teaching.
"They love and are passionate about the position," Williams says. "It has given remarkable teachers the opportunity to do something else-to share some of the insights that they have gained over time, to really engage in very serious and thoughtful professional development, to nurture their own abilities."
Building District Programs
Despite their demonstrated benefits, many districts resist implementing comprehensive new teacher induction programs because it costs too much to fund all of the requisite components. After all, if a district is struggling to pay for enough teachers for every classroom, it will be tough to find an additional $13,000 for a two-year induction program for each new teacher. When it adds the cost of extending the program to the recommended three years and including a modified version for experienced, but new to the district, teachers, the price tag goes from expensive to cost-prohibitive.
To cut costs, some districts build their own teacher induction programs in-house. Columbus Municipal School District, a 4,000-student district in Columbus, Miss., developed two years ago its new teacher induction program, Strategic Training for Academic Results (STAR), based on a similar program in Flowing Wells, Ariz. In the program, which is funded with federal and local monies, novice and experienced teachers attend summer and monthly professional development workshops and work with a trained instructional coach who observes their teaching and offers feedback.
Although the district is seeing impressive results, says Melinda Lowe, professional development coordinator, it still shows a high teacher turnover rate due to military- related transfers at the nearby Air Force base. Out of the 62 first- and second-year teachers who participated in the program, six will be leaving.
Instead of military transfers, it's the high cost of living that contributes to teacher turnover in Fairfax County, Va., where many new teachers must work a second job to afford living there. Though reducing attrition remains a core goal of the district's new teacher induction program, Sharon Mullen, director of professional practice and training for Fairfax County Public Schools, acknowledges that improving the effectiveness of new teachers has assumed a larger role over the last five years: "Our job now is to make teachers better faster because they may not be staying for a long time, but they do have those kids in front of them."
The district's homegrown teacher induction program, Great Beginnings, now serves as a model program for other Virginia districts. All teachers new to the 165,000-student district participate in the program, with novice elementary teachers staying in the program for three years, beginning high school teachers following a two-year path, and experienced teachers who are new to the district undergoing a year-long induction. To further cut costs, the district uses a renewable federal Title II grant for the mentor resource teacher component of Great Beginnings. After undergoing training to become a mentor, recently retired teachers and those on childcare leave visit the schools weekly to work with novice teachers by observing their teaching or modeling lessons.
While Columbus and Fairfax developed and implemented a program, other districts still struggle with new teacher induction and limited resources. Budget cuts have led to fewer new teacher coaches in the School District of Philadelphia.
A former new teacher coach, Suzanne Newman, is known as a "school growth teacher" at the district, working with experienced and beginning teachers, leading professional development courses, analyzing student assessment scores to help teachers drive their instruction and observing classroom teachers.
"When funds need to be cut because administrators or the board think there's too much 'fluff ,' it's the people whose job descriptions are not immediately touching the students that get the boot because we look like we're disposable," she says. "It's such a shame, but sometimes it takes too long to see the impact."
Some districts, like Durham, use grants to pay for an established, research-based program, creating self-sustainability. At Durham, whose three-year grant from Duke University and the Duke Endowment ends next year, six staff members are being trained to serve as mentor trainers endorsed in the New Teacher Center model, which allows the district to use in-house staff and the center's materials to create professional development courses.
"The human cost is still there," Williams says. "But we anticipate that there will be fewer and fewer beginning teachers because they will be staying in the profession longer, and thus the need to hire more begins to reduce, and the number of mentors ultimately will be reduced. The ultimate signal of success is that you make yourself obsolete."
Jennifer Maciejewski is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.