The first few years of a teacher’s career are extremely challenging. While new teachers have typically completed a substantial amount of coursework in education and had the chance to practice their craft as student teachers, nothing compares to the on-the-job training teachers receive once they have classrooms of their own. Teachers improve significantly early in their careers, and the work of teaching becomes more manageable over time. Unfortunately, many do not stay in the profession long enough to see those gains. Attrition rates from the profession are high in the first five years of teaching, with estimates ranging from 17% up to 50%. This is concerning because teacher turnover is expensive and detrimental to student learning. A 2014 report estimates the constant stream of teachers in and out of schools costs the U.S. $2.2 billion per year.
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Recognizing this struggle to retain new teachers, many states have passed legislation mandating support for beginning teachers that includes mentorship. A 2016 report by the New Teacher Center (NTC) takes an in-depth look at what states are currently doing to support new teachers and finds that many are lacking in their induction and mentoring programs. There are 29 states that require any specific support for new teachers, but only 15 require that this support extend beyond a teacher’s first year. NTC’s recommendation is that all states require multi-year support for beginning teachers. NTC also recommends that mentors for new teachers participate in initial and ongoing training, something that only 18 states require.
Mentorship in Michigan
Michigan has some fairly robust mentorship requirements for new teachers relative to other states. The state is one of only nine that require more than two years of support. Michigan requires that individuals in their first three years of teaching have one or more mentors who must be master teachers, college professors, or retired master teachers. The Michigan Department of Education (MDE) encourages mentorship as an effective approach to ensuring new teachers will be successful in their classrooms, stay in the profession longer, and focus more on student learning.
MDE provides some guidelines on how mentoring should be implemented in schools, suggesting the following:
- Mentors should be experienced and competent teachers.
- Mentors should contact new teachers before the first day of school and offer a one-day orientation before the year starts.
- Mentors and new teachers should meet weekly for one hour and also participate in monthly after-school meetings.
- New teachers should create a plan with their mentor teachers at the end of the school year for the following fall.
- Mentors and new teachers should have time together to observe veteran teachers and reflect on their observations.
Ensuring Effective Mentorship
Simply requiring that new teachers be assigned mentors is not enough to guarantee that mentorship will be effective in supporting and retaining teachers. A recent article by Jaime Callahan in The Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin, a journal for educators, reviewed research on the importance of mentors and emphasized several key points. Successful teachers don’t automatically make successful mentors; they must be trained in the art of mentoring. Mentors must be prepared to help beginning teachers with classroom management and building relationships with students. Research has suggested that school leaders can strengthen their mentoring programs by including the expertise of retired teachers and ensuring compatibility between mentors and mentees. Strong mentoring includes content-specific assistance, honest and open communication, and guidance on navigating school policies and procedures. When implemented successfully, mentorship creates an inclusive environment for new teachers, allows them to become more effective, and encourages them to stay in the profession.
Effective mentorship, however, requires resources. Mentors and new teachers need time out of the classroom to meet, observe other teachers, and reflect. In order to do this, substitute teachers must be provided, something that many schools struggle with. There are also expenses associated with mentorship. MDE suggests that the cost of a professional development facilitator to provide training to mentors can cost anywhere from $500 to $1500 for one day, and books and other materials may cost $25 to $100 per teacher. The costs of mentorship also disproportionately impact certain types of schools. Charter schools, for example, employ significantly more novice teachers, as do schools with higher portions of students of color and low-income students. As a result, these schools are burdened with higher mentorship demands.
Michigan’s mentorship requirements are certainly a good start, and the requirement to support beginning teachers for three years places Michigan well ahead of other states in the nation. However, requiring mentorship is not enough on its own. It is imperative that mentors are trained to work with new teachers, school leaders facilitate strong programming, and there are sufficient resources to provide this critical support to new teachers.
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