The use of a mentor program for novice teachers is an important subject area in education. I remember my first years teaching and I was fortunate enough to be a part of a formal mentor program that was run by two retired principals. After my first year of teaching, the program was cut due to budget restraints. I have always wondered how different my first year of teaching would have been without my mentors. Now as a department head, I see the need for a formal mentor program with new teachers. It is much easier to ask for a school district to fulfill a need if there is research to back it.
Teacher induction and teacher mentor programs are used interchangeably. Langdon et al. (2016) defines mentoring as the “process whereby novice or beginning teachers are brought into the community of practice and afforded the knowledge and skills required to succeed in the profession” (p. 150). In this process the novice or beginning teacher is the mentee. Gholam (2018) describes “a mentor is a veteran teacher who works with a novice during the beginning teacher’s early experiences in the classroom” (p. 3). Mentors work on teaching skills, content knowledge, and self-reflection with novice teachers (Gholam, 2018). Novice teachers can also receive support from administrators, teacher supervisors, and colleagues (Marso & Pigge, 1990). Effective teacher mentors “is committed to the role of mentoring, accepting of the beginning teacher, skilled at providing instructional support, effective in different interpersonal contexts, a model of continuous learning, and communicates hope and optimism” (Gholam, 2018, p. 4).
When I began my research on this topic, I used the GALILEO database through the University of West Georgia library. I immediately narrowed my search to full-text and peer-reviewed articles in academic journals. Then I searched the keywords beginning teacher mentor and it took me to an article in the ERIC database. Then I changed the keywords to beginning teacher induction programs and came across two articles, one in the MasterFILE Elite database and the other in the ScienceDirect database. Then I changed the keywords to teacher mentor induction programs and found an article from the JSTOR database. The next keywords I searched were novice teacher induction programs and found an article from the Academic Search Database. Lastly, I searched mentor new teachers and found an article from the ERIC database. All of the keyword searches were just different combinations of the words new, novice, beginning, teacher, mentor, induction, and programs.
The word mentor comes from Greek mythology. When Odysseus left on his adventures, he left his household manager in bringing up Odysseus’s son. The name of his household manager was Mentor (Gholam, 2018). Later, a mentor turned into an experienced person who took an interest in a younger individual to help the younger one with every aspect of his life (Gholam, 2018). Mentors have been used to improve the life of young people and to in the workplace to improve careers.
Mentors have had a been a part of the workplace for years. Leavitt (2011) states that “best utilized, mentoring is one important component in a larger, strategic initiative to build a cohesive and collaborative workforce, develop agile and savvy global leaders, and create a continuous learning culture that can effectively adapt to organizational and global change” (p. 2). Novice teacher mentor programs have been a focus of teacher education research for over twenty-five years (Langdon et al., 2016). As an educator, I decided to focus on mentor programs for novice teachers in this paper.
Application of Intervention
Teacher mentor programs can be applied in many different ways. Teacher mentor programs are used for novice teachers to improve teacher retention, student achievement, and teacher effectiveness (Ingersoll & Strong, 2011). Teacher mentor programs are implemented differently throughout the world. Ingersoll and Strong (2011) state that teacher mentor programs can be as simple of as a single meeting at the start of the school year into a two-year structured program that has multiple meetings where novice teachers and mentors are provided time away from their normal schedule for those meetings. Additionally, teacher mentor programs can be used for teachers in their first years of teaching or for experienced teachers in their first year at a new school.
The first research study I looked at had the goal of looking at the effectiveness of teacher mentor programs in New Zealand for early childhood education in comparison to the structured teacher mentor programs of elementary and secondary education in their country (Langdon et al., 2016). This study was performed with a survey given over two years and a focus group. The second research study had the purpose to “determine first-year teachers’ perceptions of the value or helpfulness of their employing school districts’ mentoring programs” (Marso & Pigge, 1990, p. 8). This research was performed through a survey. In the third research study, had the goal of measuring if a structured teacher mentor program used throughout the state of Texas achieved its goals of improving teacher effectiveness and increasing teacher retention (Resta, Huling, & Yeargain, 2013). This research was performed with a survey. The fourth research study had the goal of determining what a formal teacher mentor program could improve for a first-year teacher (Gholam, 2018). This was performed with a case study of a first-year teacher who had mentor help here when she struggled with her first year teaching duties. The fifth research study compared variables in teacher mentor programs throughout five states to pinpoint what factors of a teacher mentor program help first year teachers the most (DeCesare, Workman, & McClelland, 2016). This was done through a survey. Lastly, a research study that examine 15 empirical studies to find common themes of teacher induction programs (Ingersoll & Strong, 2011). Results
The first research study found that the early childhood education teacher mentors had two distinct goals. One was two fulfill the requirements of becoming a fully certified teacher in New Zealand and the other was to get novice teachers to reflect on their practice (Langdon et al., 2016). Respondents reported a “positive association between induction and mentoring programs and the retention, success, and wellbeing of novice teachers” (Langdon et al., 2016, p. 150). The study also found that multi-year programs are more successful than single year programs (Langdon et al., 2016).
The third research study found that novice teacher who participated in the formal teacher mentor program had a higher retention rate of 79.35% compared to the state average of 68.31% (Resta et al., 2013). Additionally, new teachers felt less isolated and were more likely to become a mentor at their school later in their career (Resta et al., 2013). Lastly, new teachers who participated in this teacher mentor program were more likely to continue their education through graduate school (Resta et al., 2013). This is due to the set up of the mentor program. Since the program was created by Texas State University, novice teacher participants earned graduate credit hours for participating outside of their paid job time. This gave students a jumpstart on graduate studies, so they were more likely to finish them.
The fourth research study found two major themes from its case study. The first theme was that a teacher mentor helped with the challenges and difficulties of a beginning teacher like classroom management, differentiated lesson plans, and curriculum development (Gholam, 2018). The second them was that a teacher mentor helped emotional by giving emotional support to the beginning teacher and helping the beginning teacher to develop positive student-teacher relationships (Gholam, 2018).
In the fifth study, researchers found major variability in teacher mentor programs throughout the United States. About half of mentors are required to observe their mentees, about a third of mentors are required to have training to be a mentor, and about half of mentors are provided stipends for their extra time (DeCesare et al., 2016).
In the last study, researchers found that “teachers with trained mentors had better classroom organization and management early in the year and students were more engaged” (Ingersoll & Strong, 2011, pp. 203-204). Additionally, students of first year teachers with mentors had higher test scores in comparison to first year teachers without mentors (Ingersoll & Strong, 2011). Novice teachers with mentors reported higher job satisfaction which helped with teacher retention (Ingersoll & Strong, 2011).
Throughout all of the studies many advantages of having a teacher mentor program were discussed. The first advantage is an increase in teacher retention. Low teacher retention is expensive because first year teachers require costs due to recruiting, training, and hiring (DeCesare et al., 2016). School districts lose about $10,000 per each teacher who leaves (DeCesare et al., 2016). Most teacher mentor programs increase teacher retention rates thus helping budget costs (Ingersoll & Strong, 2011). The second advantage is emotional support for new teachers. Gholam (2018) states that mentors “boost teacher satisfaction and confidence, reduce their isolation, and enhance their professional growth” (p. 4). The third advantage is novice teachers having someone to help them with school requirements and procedures (Marso & Pigge, 1990). The fourth advantage is that teacher mentors help to promote self-reflection which in turn create better teachers (Resta et al., 2013). Lastly, teacher mentor programs can increase student achievement for first-year teachers (Ingersoll & Strong, 2011).
Though there are many advantages to novice teacher mentor programs, there are some disadvantages. First, teacher retention is increased in the majority of schools, but mentor programs do not help retention in urban, low-income schools (Ingersoll & Strong, 2011). Second, mentors think that mentor programs are more advantageous than mentees which indicates room for improvement on the mentor (Langdon et al., 2016). The lack of structure in many novice teacher mentor programs creates different outcomes for mentees (Langdon et al., 2016). A mentor is not enough for a first-year teacher, they need support from other staff including the principal, teacher supervisor, and other colleagues (Marso & Pigge, 1990). A lack of training for mentors hinders better performance for mentors wanting to help (Resta et al., 2013). Full-time teachers being used for mentoring do not have enough time to be beneficial unless stipends are used to reward time used outside of school or substitutes are used to allow for mentors to observe and spend time with their mentees (DeCesare et al., 2016). Most of these disadvantages are due to an inconsistency in novice teacher mentor programs and could be overcome by creating a structured program for all schools to adhere to. The disadvantage to this is the overall cost of a program like that.
Future studies should be done that compare more structured novice teacher mentor programs to those that are not structured to give further evidence that the structured programs are more beneficial. Most studies compared no mentor to any mentor program. This comparison would give school districts leverage when using some of their budget to create structured new teacher mentor program.
Another future study that could be done is to separate the needs of a first-year elementary school teacher to those of a first-year secondary school teacher. Marso and Pigge (1990) showed that novice secondary school teachers did not find mentors as helpful as novice elementary school teachers did. This divide needs to be address so that a structured program for beginning secondary school teachers can be created.
Lastly, a future study could be done on mentoring non-novice teachers. Veteran teachers that are new to a school could potential benefit from a mentor. Or even veteran teachers who have let their profession grow stale. Most mentor programs are for novice teachers but the benefits of helping veteran teachers should be studied.
Novice teacher mentor programs can be very beneficial for first-year teachers and their students, but the degree of the benefits can vary from program to program. Research suggests that two years or more of mentoring is needed to truly affect student performance (DeCesare et al., 2016). Marso and Pigge (1990) found a positive correlation between time spent with mentees and mentors and the rating of the helpfulness of a mentor. This means mentors need to have devoted time to their job. Additionally, mentors should have formal training, be provided with stipends, be require to observe their mentees, and be given time during the school day to perform their mentor duties to be as effective as possible (DeCesare et al., 2016). Using the Novice Teacher Induction Program created by Texas State University as a model for mentor programs would help to create more consistency and more benefits for first-year teachers and their students. This program utilized recently retired highly recommended teachers to serve as mentors (Resta et al., 2013).
Overall, any mentor is better than no mentor for novice teachers, but more structure and training will allow for the best experience possible for novice teachers. As shown in the research a strong mentor will help a novice teacher in many ways and will help the novice teacher’s students. Hopefully further studies will create more consistency in outcomes for novice teachers and the benefits of mentorship will be carried onto veteran teachers too.
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