With the recent loss of a highly effective first-year teacher, it is important to look into the programs that districts put into place to mentor these new employees throughout their first year of employment. One of the biggest reasons that this teacher did not return to education was the lack of support provided during this important time of transition. Early negative experiences cause many beginning teachers to leave the profession within their first five years of teaching (Darling-Hammond, 1990). With this in mind, it is important to look at our current programs that are offered and determine what can be done to improve upon the quality of this system.
The retention of quality teachers with and without the use of effective forms of beginning teacher assistance in the public school system has been a topic of continuing investigation and concern (Darling-Hammond, 2000; Huling-Austin, 1990; Ingersoll, 1999). The attrition rates of teachers appear to be higher than in many other occupations (Ingersoll, 1999). What makes teaching so unique that it drives many teachers out of the profession (Ingersoll, 1999)? Teaching may be one of the most difficult (Schulman, 1987) and challenging (Huling-Austin, Odell, Ishler, Hay, & Edelfelt, 1989; Veeman, 1984) of all professions to master. Few other professions expect the first-year practitioner to immediately perform at the same level as their experienced colleagues (Joerger and Boettcher, 2000). This pressure results in a transition from student to first-year teacher that may be traumatic and has been referred to in the literature as "reality shock" (Marso and Pigge, 1987).
Serious mentoring oriented around new teacher learning is a professional practice that can be learned. Strong induction programs offer mentors more than a few days of initial training. They provide ongoing opportunities for study and problem solving as mentors carry out their work with new teachers. To learn to mentor in educative ways, mentor teachers need opportunities to clarify their vision of good teaching, to see and analyze effective models of mentoring, to develop skills in observing and talking about teaching in analytic, nonjudgmental ways, and to learn to assess new teachers' progress and their own effectiveness as mentors (Feiman-Nemser, 2003).
Educative mentoring rests on an explicit vision of good teaching and an understanding of teacher learning. Mentors who share this orientation attend to beginning teacher's present concerns, questions, and purposes without losing sight of long-term goals for teacher development. They interact with novices in ways that foster an inquiring stance. They cultivate skills and habits that enable novices to learn in and from their practice. They use their knowledge and expertise to assess the direction novices are heading and to create opportunities and conditions that support meaningful teacher learning in the service of student learning (Feiman-Nemser, 2001).
Induction programs are used to provide support and help new teachers improve their teaching. The quality and content of induction and mentoring programs for new teachers vary widely. Although it is difficult to find concrete evidence of the effectiveness of induction programs (Gold, 1996), there is some evidence that they improve retention rates for new teachers. For example, the California Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment program has been shown to have a first-year retention rate of up to 94 percent. Factors central to the success of mentoring and induction programs, which policymakers should consider, include the amount of resources dedicated to the program and the amount and quality of mentor training (Reichardt, 2001).
Subjects in this study include all first-year teachers within the Belton ISD school system that have agreed to participate in this study. First-year teachers participating in this study will come from various backgrounds of education, college degree in education and alternate certification teachers. Each participant receives the same staff development opportunities for first-year teachers, participates in periodical first-year teacher meetings, and is assigned a mentor teacher (the campus instructional facilitator). The amount of mentoring time varies depending upon the campus the first-year teacher is employed.
Role of the Researcher
The researcher in this study will be expected to perform several tasks:
Attend the first-year teacher training prior to the start of the school year
Attend periodical first-year teacher meetings during the school year
Meet with district and campus staff to gather information in regards to the programs being offered at the primary and secondary levels
Meet with mentor teachers to gather information in regards to the program offering at specific campuses and at the primary and secondary levels
Administer a mid- and post-mentoring interview (See Appendix I)
Review teacher evaluation results (mid-year and post-year) (See http://www5.esc13.net/pdas/docs/forms/ObservationSummary.pdf )
Gather and analyze results of the interview
Report results to district and campus administrators and assigned mentors to discuss the themes found and to discuss where the district should go from here when reviewing the current mentoring program
Participants will be asked to complete a mid- and post-mentoring program interview (see Appendix I for Teacher Interview Questions). This interview will be conducted at the teacher's home campus. Participants will be informed that their responses will be shared with the district and campus administration along with the assigned mentors, but will remain confidential. The interview will cover the following areas of interest:
Amount of contact time with mentor
Quality of contact time with mentor
Quality of information provided at initial training
Quality and amount of help offered by mentor
Strengths of the program
Weakness of the program
Data Analysis and Reporting
Upon completion of the mid-year and post-year interviews, the researcher will analyze the results and develop a list of themes, per level (elementary, middle, high), of responses to each interview question to determine areas that need to be addressed in order for the district to improve upon their current mentoring program. Results between mid- and post-year will also be compared to analyze teacher's thoughts regarding if they have felt an improvement in the program as the year has progressed.
Teacher evaluations, both mid- and post-year, will be analyzed to determine areas of concern that the mentoring program should focus on more in depth to improve upon the quality of first-year teachers.
Several factors could limit the results from this research. Participants may feel that their responses are not valuable therefore lowering the response rates, providing incomplete results, and possibly giving dishonest responses. All efforts should be made to ensure that their responses are valuable to the determination of the effectiveness of the mentoring program and that their feedback will help develop a more effective program for the future. Some participants may not feel comfortable sharing their thoughts in front of their peers. Every effort should be made so that they feel comfortable sharing their experiences. Participants should also understand that their identity would not be connected to their responses therefore eliminating the possibility of retribution.
"The ultimate purpose of any school is the success and achievement of its students. Therefore, any efforts that are made must improve student achievement. Improving student achievement boils down to the teacher. What the teacher knows and can do in the classroom is the most important factor resulting in student achievement" (Wong, 2004). With the future of our society relying on our children, their education is of upmost importance. We need to be retaining quality instructors by supporting them and offering the support that is needed. If we leave beginning teachers to sink or swim on their own, they may become overwhelmed and leave the field. Alternatively, they may stay, clinging to practices and attitudes that help them survive but do not serve the education needs of students. A high-quality induction program should increase the probability that new teachers learn desirable lessons from their early teaching experiences (Feiman-Nemser, 2003).
As in any profession, it is more worthwhile for all involved to support new employees than to let them leave and hire new employees in their place. Those involved in Human Resources should make it a priority to provide the best possible training throughout an employees' career with your organization. This includes before actual employment and support throughout.
"Although other professions provide transitional assistance for new members (e.g., residents in medicine, interns in architecture, and associates in law), historically the education profession has ignored the support needs to its new recruits and has been described as "the profession that eats its young" (Halford, as cited in Renard, 1999, p. 227). Instead, we need to say what Pete Frazer (1998, as cited in Feiman-Nemser, 2001) said during an interview. "I want to be a co-thinker with them so that I can help them to see new perspectives, new ways to solve the problems they have. I just want to stand beside them and work and let them take from me what fits into the solution of the problem they're working on now."
If we take teaching seriously as the learning profession, we will foster new teacher learning in a strong professional culture that promotes teacher learning across all experience levels. When we meet their learning needs, new teachers can reach their full potential- not only by staying in the profession but also by improving learning for all students (Feiman-Nemser, 2003).
Appendix I- Teacher Interview Questions
Level: (Circle One) Elementary Middle High
Time: (Circle One) Mid-Year Post-Year
1. Was the amount of contact time with your mentor adequate? Why or why not?
2. Was the quality of contact time with your mentor adequate? Why or why not?
3. What did your administrator do to make teaching in his/her building smooth and successful?
4. What could your administrator have done to be of more assistance?
5. What do you consider the strength of the mentoring program?
6. What do you consider the weakness of the mentoring program?
7. Additional Comments?