High-Quality Teacher Induction and Multi-Year Mentoring Are the New Teachers in Your School Thriving or Merely Surviving?

Nov 5th, 2019 | Category: Columns, Research in Education
By Mary Zaharis

After a long year of teaching and learning, summer vacation has come and gone for nearly 3.8 million teachers and 50.6 million students in American schools (Ingersoll, Merrill, Stuckey & Collins, 2018; Alliance for Excellent Education, 2010; NCES, 2019). School leaders have been planning for the beginning of the school year, preparing budgets, maintaining the facility, ordering textbooks and supplies, and, most importantly, hiring teachers to replace approximately 200,000 teachers who will not be returning in the fall (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018). 

With this number of positions to fill, many newly-graduated teachers will be hired to assume their first teaching position. This is an exciting first step for new teachers, and although eager and excited to start the school year, the possibility that they will stay on the job past their first year is a statistic that is not in their favor (Bartell, 2004; Ganser, 2005; Goodwin, 2012; Goldrick, 2016). The research suggests that out of every two teachers hired, one will leave the profession within five years (Alliance for Excellent Education, 2010; NCES, 2019). Teacher turnover of this magnitude is not in the best interest of our students and takes a toll on district and parochial-school budgets. American schools spend up to $2.6 billion annually to replace teachers who have left the profession (Ingersoll, Merrill, Stuckey & Collins, 2018; Alliance for Excellent Education, 2010). With a new teacher attrition rate of nearly 44%, the importance of supporting teachers is worthy of further dialogue and discourse if every child in our schools is to have an effective teacher (Hunt, 1968; Schrerer, 1999; Hanushek, 2005; Strong & Villar, 2007; Krasnoff, 2014; Ingersoll et al., 2018). 

Background of the Issues

Teaching is one of few professions where novices are expected to perform the same tasks as veterans in the field. Due to their lack of experience and support however, new teachers may be experiencing the most stressful conditions in the school. Researchers in the field suggest that regardless of the type or quality of teacher preparation program completed, new teachers will enter perhaps the most vulnerable stage of their teaching career (Stansbury & Zimmerman, 2000; Moir, Barlin, Gless & Miles, 2009; Podolsky, Kini, Bishop, Darling-Hammond, 2016). Krasnoff (2014) suggests that the first three years of teaching are critical to the development of what may become the next 30 years of teaching practice in the teacher’s career. Special attention for how schools provide support to new teachers is not only critical to the success of these new teachers, but, more importantly, to the success of their students. 

Recent research suggests that 14% of new teachers leave the field by the end of their first year, 33% leave within three years, and 44% leave within five years of teaching. This high rate of new-teacher attrition is especially significant in hard-to-staff schools where there is high poverty and low achievement. Students in these schools continually face a revolving door of inexperienced teachers who may negatively impact their ability to learn (Ingersoll et al., 2018). Without proper support, novices who are left to struggle on their own, work in unstable learning environments that impact the success of both student and teacher. If nothing is done to prevent this constant churn of new teachers leaving the profession, we will continue to exacerbate the inequities that exist in schools and that inevitably extend out to larger society (Ingersoll, 2012; Krasnoff 2014). 

Serious Learning Needs

Long-time teachers have well known that learning to teach is a process that takes patience and time. School leaders who overlook the fact that the beginning years of teaching are a very stressful time for the novice, however, may not share this wisdom. During this crucial period of development, novices learn to apply the theory and knowledge acquired during their pre-service preparation to the practice of teaching and need the continual support and guidance of a trusted veteran teacher (Bartell, 2004). 

The first year of teaching is a period of many firsts. Novice teachers must learn to solve problems, establish professional routines, and deepen emerging skills in order to become effective classroom teachers (Moir, et al., 2009). Among many things learned during the first years of teaching, beginning teachers need to gain local knowledge of their students, understand how to design thoughtful curriculum that addresses the needs of all learners, and understand the political landscape and culture of the school. 

Additionally, new teachers must have a full understanding of the teacher-evaluation system used by their district. Novice teachers, who are being formally assessed for the first time, must understand how they will be evaluated and to which standards they will be held accountable. New teachers, much like their veteran colleagues, are expected to successfully design and implement responsive curriculum in diverse learning communities where the needs of all learners are met. Evaluation can be a stressful time for new teachers, but with proper support and mentoring, it can also be a time when teachers learn how to improve their practice in order to increase student achievement. 

Stages of Teacher Development

Whether or not support is provided for the novice teacher, according to Moir, et al., (2009), there are predictable stages that teachers will go through in their first years of teaching. New teachers move through several predictable stages ranging from the anticipation phase of teaching to the reflective-practitioner phase. If new teachers are expected to develop to their fullest potential, a qualified mentor must support each of these stages. In the first stage of anticipation, new teachers are finishing their teacher preparation programs and moving closer to completion. This is a time of great excitement because they are finally approaching their first teaching assignment. 

Novices soon learn that the first month of teaching is overwhelming and may work as many as 70 hours each week trying to stay above the relentless waves of expectations coming their way. Their time is consumed with the day-to-day routine of teaching and struggles with classroom management. This leaves them feeling exhausted, with little time to reflect or recover for the next day of teaching. During this period, novices may experience disillusionment and exhaustion as they encounter many first-time events such as curriculum night and parent-teacher conferences. Novices also experience low self-esteem and self-doubt at this stage and are in need of very frequent encouragement and support. 

The new teacher manages to make it until winter break, which allows them to return to somewhat of a normal lifestyle for a few weeks. Slow improvement of the novices’ attitude toward teaching is illuminated by a glimmer of competence and confidence in their new role. If supported, the novice begins moving from merely surviving to thriving by focusing on the bigger picture of teaching and learning. 

The reflective stage is the final stage in which the novice feels the end in sight. During the last weeks of school, novices begin to reflect back over the year and think about what was successful and what was not. At this stage, the novice begins to feel the excitement and anticipation of the beginning of their second year of teaching (Moir et. al, 2009). 

Supporting New Teachers to Thrive 

In order to help new teachers thrive, not merely survive, during their first years of teaching, understanding the stages of teacher development will help school leaders know how to offer targeted support that will lead to improved teacher practice. Such support can be provided through effective, high-quality induction programs that have been shown to have a positive impact on new teacher retention and the achievement of their students (Lipton & Wellman 2003; Wong, 2003; Ingersoll, 2012; CCSESA, 2016; Ingersoll et al., 2019; NCUE, 2019). 

In a comprehensive high-quality induction program, multi-year mentoring plays a key role in the support of novice teachers. A solid body of empirical research supports the positive effect that mentoring has on the quality of instructional practice, retention and the capacity the teacher has to improve student achievement (Ingersoll, 2012). The process of multi-year mentoring has also been shown to have a positive impact on the veteran teacher as well. Quality teacher induction and effective multi-year mentoring that is built around job-embedded coaching aligned to district goals will help the novice teacher transition seamlessly from his or her teacher preparation program to the first years of successful teaching (Hanushek, 2005; Adamson & Darling-Hammond, 2011; Behrstock-Sherratt, 2014). In addition to understanding the stages of teacher development, it is important for school leaders to understand why attrition is so high in the teaching profession, especially in their small world within that profession. 

Why Beginning Teachers Leave

Ingersoll (2018) suggests that nearly 44% of new teachers leave because of the heavy workload, school working conditions, degree of autonomy and discretion allowed over issues that arise in their classrooms, and the level of collective faculty influence over decisions that affect their jobs. Novice minorities are documented to have an even a higher rate of attrition in their early years with 55% leaving the profession in the first five years. Other reasons for leaving include the high level of expectations and scope of teaching required of novices. This is exacerbated by feelings of isolation due to the lack of support the new teacher may be receiving. A gap emerges between the novice’s expectation of what teaching should be like and the reality of their jobs. Surprisingly, reasons for leaving are not typically salary-related but are attributed to excessive high-stakes testing, disruptive student behavior, poor leadership and the idea that teaching is merely a temporary profession until something better comes along (Darling-Hammond, 2010; Krasnoff, 2014; Podolsky et al., 2016; Ingersoll, 2018). (see Figure 1)

Why Do Teachers Stay?

Equally important in the crisis of high attrition for early-career teachers is understanding why teachers remain in their schools and in the profession. Novice teachers need to feel competent and have the self-satisfaction of a job well done. Teachers in general are more likely to stay when they are recognized and supported in their efforts. This leads to a sense of autonomy in their workplace and higher job satisfaction. Both novice and veteran teachers are attracted to school leaders who are good instructional leaders, like-minded colleagues and readily available for instructional support that enables them to be effective educators (Darling-Hammond, 2010). 

Teachers who are given dedicated time to interact and collaborate with supportive colleagues and receive job-embedded and meaningful professional development that has been differentiated for their individual needs feel supported by their school administrators. Compensation is important, but not a determining factor for leaving. Working conditions, status, and job satisfaction are, however, critical to their retention. Allowing teacher input into important decisions that affect their daily work with students is also an important factor in teacher retention (Podolsky et al., 2016). 

Induction and Multi-Year Mentoring

The success of schools is ultimately determined by improved teacher practice that leads to optimal achievement for every student. “New teachers hired today are the teachers of the next generation. Their success will determine the success of an entire generation of students. Their success can be ensured by providing them with a comprehensive, coherent professional development plan” (Wong, 2004, p. 41). Improving student achievement ultimately relies on the effectiveness of teacher practice, which, in turn, determines the quality of instruction the students receive. 

One way to ensure the success of teachers entering the profession is through high-quality induction programs and multi-year mentoring support. Many school districts have realized this and have induction and mentoring programs in place, but the consistency and effectiveness of these programs vary. High-quality induction must be intentional and is a process of comprehensive, coherent, and sustained professional development for early-career teachers organized by the district to train, support, and retain them. 

Stansbury and Zimmerman (2000) suggest that beginning teacher support can be viewed as a continuum starting with emotional support and encouragement to stay the course and eventually leading to intentional development and improvement of teacher practice. Induction is not a crash course in teaching, nor is it a stand-alone program. It intentionally and systematically builds a strong culture and community of teachers who are learners. Strong induction programs bring teachers and leaders together in a collaborative setting that leads to a professional learning community filled with positive change (Carroll, 2007). 

Mentoring is not a stand-alone program, either, but is part of a comprehensive, high-quality induction program that leads to effective support and retention of novice teachers. 

Mentoring is the process in which a more skilled person (veteran teacher) serves as a role model whose basic function is to help the new teacher. Mentoring is not induction, but is considered a component of the induction process. Mentors are the most important part of the process of induction, but in order for mentors to be effective, they must receive continual professional development and proper training in the vision and mission of the district (Lipton, Wellman & Humbard, 2003); Garvey, 2004; Locraft-Cuddapah, 2012; SREB, 2019). (see Figure 2)

Feedback from New Teachers

What do new teachers want from their mentors in their first years of teaching? Research suggests that new teachers want mentors who share friendship as well as professional ideas with them and respect them as emerging professionals. They want a mentor to understand that although they are new, they have ideas they would like to share as well. If veteran teachers are open to learning from their new colleagues, an environment of trust, respect and rapport is quickly established for both novice teacher and mentor (Strong & Villar, 2007).

Novices have suggested that they want a mentor who helps them plan their first day of activities in the days prior to the beginning of school. With classroom management identified as a major struggle, many first-year teachers want a mentor who helps them understand how to build relationships with their students and their families. Novices have also suggested that they would like support with simple logistics such as how to set up their room, how to create classroom rules that will help them manage student behavior, and how to create schedules that will provide optimal learning opportunities for their students (Brighton, as cited in Scherer, 1999). 

New teachers have also suggested that they would like to have mentors who observe their teaching practices in the classroom. This non-threatening feedback intended for improvement of the novice’s practice is invaluable to the new teacher. Effectively learning what will be expected of them on formal evaluations helps lower the novice’s initial anxiety about teacher evaluation. Novices find it valuable to be invited to observe their mentor and other teachers in their building so that they learn more about effective teaching. These guided opportunities provide meaningful, job-embedded professional development that occurs within the context of the novice’s unique school setting (Scherer, 1999; Bieler, 2012; Locraft-Cuddapah & Sprately-Burtin, 2012; Podolsky et al., 2016; (Clement, 2019).

What Are the Roles of the Mentor and the Protégé?

A typical mentor is a veteran professional who takes an active interest in the development of a novice teacher. The mentor should have at least five years of experience with proficient-teacher-evaluation status. Mentors must understand the purpose, role, and process of mentoring in the district. They should be familiar with national, state, and district standards for teaching. An effective mentor represents a mosaic of support for the protégé. 

Characteristics sought after in mentors include patience, excellent communication skills, being a good listener, flexibility, and someone with a good sense of humor. Developing a relationship of trust and confidentiality with the protégé is critical. An effective mentor is therefore willing to be a role model of teaching by demonstrating a strong commitment to the continual improvement of teaching and learning. Mentoring is a win-win situation for the mentor as they, too, grow professionally through the re-examination of their own practices and beliefs. (Teague, 2013; Clement, 2019; GDOE, 2019; NEA, 2019). 

The role of the protégé is to be open and candid concerning his, or her, needs for professional development and growth. Many times, new teachers are unwilling to admit that they lack skill in specific areas because they fear their more experienced colleagues will harshly judge them. To grow, they must be willing to participate in all phases of the induction process and unafraid to ask questions. By realistically appraising their own strengths and weaknesses, the novice teacher grows in both skill and confidence. A sense of humor and the willingness to confide in their mentor creates lifelong friendships and provides the context for a seamless integration of theory and practice, engendering deep support and growth for the new teacher and for the mentor (Teague, 2013; GDOE, 2019; NEA, 2019).

Benefits of High-Quality Induction and Multi-Year Mentoring

Among the many benefits of high-quality induction and multi-year mentoring are higher retention rates of beginning teachers, increased levels of professional efficacy, improved teacher performance, earlier identification of weak teachers in need of assistance, and increased job satisfaction (Goodwin, 2012). High-quality and multi-year induction programs consider the following steps in the implementation and institutionalization of the process:

  1. Determine goals and objectives for the program
  2. Recruit highly-qualified mentors
  3. Select mentors (not all outstanding teachers are necessarily talented mentors)
  4. Train mentors and provide continual professional development at the mentoring level
  5. Sanction and reinforce times for meaningful mentoring interactions 
  6. Focus interactions on well-structured time spent together reviewing classroom practice supported by data
  7. Provide multi-year mentoring for the first three years of a
    teacher’s practice
  8. Evaluate program for effectiveness

Depending on the amount and quality of support they encounter in their first teaching job, new teachers can grow into highly competent ones, or they may develop counterproductive approaches to their teaching that force them to leave the profession entirely (Podolsky et al., 2016). 

The effectiveness of high-quality programs for increasing retention, accelerating novice teachers’ professional learning, and improving student achievement suggests that states and districts, with the support of the federal government, should invest in these programs. Given the benefits of induction for retention and teacher effectiveness, these programs should be made available to all new teachers. 

What Can Districts Do?

District leaders face the spiraling problem of losing new teachers during their first five years of service. If district leaders are to reverse this trend, attention must turn to developing high-quality induction programs, support services and mentoring relationships for novice teachers (Teague & Swan, 2013). Attention to high-quality programs developed specifically for new teachers can cut attrition rates and increase the effectiveness of new teachers. Informed leadership and dedication of funds specifically for this process need to be committed by the district in intentional ways, not as haphazard attempts at supporting this process (Winstead & Fry, 2007; Ingersoll, 2012).

Novice teachers need intense support during their first year of teaching, moderate support the second year and as-needed support their third year (Teague & Swan, 2013). With almost one-third of teachers leaving within the first three years and one-half leaving by their fifth year, many new teachers do not stay in the classroom long enough to develop effective teaching practices (Ingersoll, 2012). Well-designed and multi-year induction programs serve to support teachers beyond simply surviving to thriving in their first years of teaching and are good investments for the district (Darling-Hammond, 2010). 

Replacement costs for teachers range from $4,500 in smaller, rural communities to $20,000 in large, urban districts (Carroll, 2007; NTC, 2019). Districts can prevent high attrition rates by establishing a culture that creates and supports effective new-teacher induction and mentoring. District leaders must clearly communicate goals and expectations of effective induction programs, evaluate program effectiveness based on data collected and provide resources needed to sustain an effective program. (Winstead & Fry, 2007; Ingersoll, 2012).

What Can School Leaders Do?

School leaders can begin by recruiting and matching caring, eager, and capable mentors to the new teachers. It is most ideal if the mentor and the protégé teach close to the same grade level or subject matter (Lozinak, 2016; Moore, 2016). School leaders can ensure protected common planning periods and can assign new teachers to classrooms that keep them near their mentors and teaching colleagues to facilitate collaboration and minimize isolation. School leaders can encourage and support a school climate where all teachers can comfortably ask for help so that novice teachers feel confident to do so. They can promote good working conditions, which include a commitment to the vision, mission, and goals of the district’s induction program and collaborative, shared decision-making. Communicating with the mentor and protégé frequently to qualitatively assess the effectiveness of the program determines the quality of relationships being developed, and ultimately ensures the positive impact the program has on student achievement (Winstead, 2007; Krasnoff, 2014; Moore, 2016; GDOE, 2019).

Finally, celebrating the successes of the induction and multi-year mentoring program will communicate the importance that supporting novice teachers has within the framework of successful schools.

Considering What Can Be

The research clearly supports comprehensive, high-quality induction programs and multi-year mentoring to accelerate professional growth of new teachers as effective means for reducing the rate of new-teacher attrition. Policy makers and legislators must be made aware of the teacher retention crisis and the impact it has on student achievement. Only three states, Connecticut, Delaware and Iowa, require schools and districts to provide multi-year support for new teachers and require teachers to complete an induction program for a professional license (Goldrick, 2016). 

The New Teacher Center (NTC), a national non-profit organization dedicated to improving student learning by guiding a new generation of educators, partnered with Dade County Public Schools in 2015 to create their Mentoring and Induction of New Teachers (MINT) program. This high-quality induction and multi-year mentoring program is designed to support new teachers entering the system and has significantly stemmed high attrition rates of early-career teachers in their district (MINT, 2016; NTC, 2019). The scale used to measure the success of the program is one in which the measure of teacher performance is directly linked to the amount of support provided for the early-career teachers. Early-intervention strategies implemented in this high-quality induction and multi-year mentoring program has led to improved teacher practice and more successful retention of teachers in their district.

The need to attract and retain new teachers in our schools is far too critical to leave up to chance. School leaders must discover the reasons for high attrition rates in their districts and consider following models such as the MINT program in Dade County Public Schools. If high attrition rates of new teachers are not reduced, we will continue to lose the best and brightest teachers for our students. The time for high-quality induction and multi-year mentoring programs has come. LEJ

References

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Mary Zaharis, Ph.D., earned her M.S. Ed in Educational Leadership from the University of Georgia and her Ph.D. in Educational Leadership from Concordia University Chicago. Dr. Zaharis teaches in the Department of Educational Leadership in the principal preparation and superintendent program. In her current role at Concordia, she serves as a Program Leader for courses that include the supervision and evaluation of superintendents, principals and teachers. Dr. Zaharis serves on doctoral faculty at Concordia and is a chair and committee member for students in the educational leadership dissertation process.