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In the contemporary classroom environment, successful recruiting, selection and hiring practices ensure that new teachers enter the workplace with a basic, pre-requisite skill set. For new teachers, the skill set should encompass the background, experiences, requisite certifications and training in like situations to the educational environment into which the new teacher will be placed. The newly-hired teacher, dependent upon individual experiences, may or may not have been exposed to or proficient with the exact performance standards, technology, and specific processes unique to the school system and tasking.
The classroom-based training indicative of the new teacher's college experiences, although imparting the philosophical and theoretical elements of instruction, curriculum development, generalized student populations, and overall strategies and pedagogy, may not accurately "translate" to the actual classroom environment. New teachers "need to see the immediate relevance of what they are learning, they need to be actively engaged in exploring, they need to build their own mental models, and they learn best when they are initiating the motivation. Often, classroom training disengages the learner from the job context" (TriData, 1998, pp. 1-2). To ease the transition from the college classroom to the new teacher's own classroom environment, school systems across the United States have implemented such programs as induction and mentoring to augment orientation to the school system and classroom environment, and establish additional support systems and resources for the new teacher prior to and during their employment.
Induction programs provide an effective method by which teachers can learn the skills, processes, and practices necessary to do perform in the same, or similar, classroom environments in which they will work. These types of training and support programs, usually occurring after individuals complete the formal administrative orientation process through the school system, but prior to or within the first months of teaching, establish a structured support system, formalized opportunities to interact with other new teachers, and provide initial assessment to target the new teacher's strengths and identify areas for further development. Induction also serves to provide the school-specific knowledge, skills and information essential for the teacher to function optimally in the school environment (North, 2008, p. 2).
Several school systems across the United States, including California, Colorado, and Massachusetts, require new teachers to complete induction as part of the overall orientation process, as well as meeting state-mandated licensure requirements. Induction programs, however, do not provide longer term support for the new teacher, specifically targeting new teachers during the first months of teaching. Although establishing and fostering the network of support and resources to be used by the new teacher as they become more experienced within the school system and classroom environment, induction only lays the framework for support during the beginning months of teaching (Massachusetts, 2002).
Mentoring programs, facilitated and initiated through the induction process, encompass a more long-standing support system and relationship between the new teacher and identified mentor. Mentorship provides the opportunities for newer teachers to engage in constructive activities with veteran teachers, usually within the same field of instruction, including observation and feedback, co-instruction, and curriculum planning. Through mentoring, new teachers can also establish a plan for professional development, based upon the recommendations and direction of the mentor, which specifically meet the goals of the individual, and align with the objectives of the school and community. Mentoring programs provide for job-embedded professional development, promote reflective practice, and continuous learning, and initiate reciprocal and collaborative learning. Mentoring, as a component of induction, is one example of professional development that can advance school improvement initiatives and teaching practice" (Rhode Island, 2006).
Additionally, mentoring programs allow veteran teachers to establish homogeneity within instructional skill-set and predominant instructional pedagogy, ultimately shaping the quality and practice of teaching towards common goals of the school system and community. "They improve teacher effectiveness, teaching techniques, promote a district's culture and maximize the retention of highly qualified teachers. Research shows that retention rates are increased substantially due to the collaborative culture that is established when educators work together with a shared vision for success and for increased student achievement for all students" (Rhode Island, 2006). Mentoring programs also have the potential of elevating the teaching profession and fostering a collaborative learning community. These benefits can lead to a much higher rate of retention, as new educators find themselves in an environment that cultivates continual growth and success. Mentoring programs often have the goal of grooming new teachers to take on the role of the next generation of mentors upon continued tenure with the school system (Massachusetts, 2002).
As a paraprofessional, I would serve to develop and evaluate current induction program and mentorship support systems to ensure applicability to the new hire's classroom environment, student population, and school system, and provide ongoing assessment as to the effectiveness and success of these types of programs for new hires and tenured staff. In doing so, I would also address one of the more primary issues facing the quality of contemporary induction and mentoring programs. Often, the skills, information, and professional development opportunities integrated into induction and mentoring, due to issues such as lacks of funding and standardization, do not accurately reflect new teacher's classroom environment, subject matter, and curriculum development needs (AASCU, 2006).
In designing induction programs, it is imperative to define the skills necessary for new teachers to function optimally in the classroom environment. These skills should be obtained from an analysis of instructional and administrative staff from the school, district, and community that impacts the daily activities of the new teacher, as well as current industry trends and best practices. Further, when developing mentorship programs, programs often lack standard criteria for certification of mentors and requirements for continued professional development of individuals already serving in the mentor role. The measurement of proficiency of mentors, as well as the assessment of overall program success, should be based, in part, upon this defined criteria and standards for entrance and continued certification.
Induction programs serve to acclimate new teachers to the impending classroom environment, while mentoring, established during induction, provide the long-term support for new teachers during their transition from new to tenured instructional staff. These programs serve to assist new teachers "realize their full potential, keep them in the profession, promote greater student learning, and save money. Mentoring and induction can bridge the gap between pre-service education and the classroom" (AASCU, 2006). With an increased desire for standardization, quality, and matriculation between philosophy and actual classroom practice, induction and mentorship can remain an essential component of welcoming new teachers, and keeping them employed, in this valuable field.