By Stacey-Ann Barrett
Approximately 40 to 50 percent of new teachers leave within the first five years of entry into teaching (Ingersoll, 2012). Despite the many different reasons for this mass exodus, there is one strategy that has been shown to stem the tide of teacher attrition: investing in and instituting effective teacher mentoring programs. School districts must intensify efforts to work with school administrators to provide effective support, guidance, and orientation programs during the initial years of teaching (Lambeth, 2012).
Over the course of my ten years in education, I have mentored several teachers, but none of them ever worked alongside me in the same classroom for the length of a school year. Instead, my mentoring experience involved assisting teachers with lesson planning, meeting during their planning periods, collaborating during professional learning communities and grade level meetings, finding resources, observing their instruction, and giving them feedback on their practice. This past school year afforded me a new experience; a student teacher actually taught in my classroom for the entire school year. She started the school year at the same time I did and was there to assist in setting up the classroom, decorating, and meeting parents and students during our open house.
The student teacher started the program with a low teaching efficacy. In fact, she shared with me that she needed improvement in content knowledge, classroom management, planning, and instruction. I began to provide opportunities for her to observe my instruction during one block and teach the same lesson to the second block. We met daily and reflected on each lesson, strategies she used to deal with classroom management issues, and the planning and implementation of the lesson.
During this time, she was able to work alongside me in order to strengthen her content knowledge, planning skills, instructional implementation, and classroom management decision making. She had the opportunity to perform the roles and the duties of a classroom teacher. As a result of this hands-on experience, she learned how to handle herself in challenging situations, make judgment calls based on acquired knowledge, deal with parents and administrators, and meet deadlines. She was totally immersed in the day-to-day operation of a classroom teacher.
Ultimately, this authentic experience was beneficial to the student teacher because she was able to learn the ins and outs of the daily operations of a classroom and school and understand the role all stakeholders play creating a learning environment for students. She expressed to me with a sigh that teaching is much harder than she anticipated. She did not have a clue how much multitasking and responsibilities a teacher had to endure on a daily basis prior to entering the classroom. She described the time teachers spent planning, organizing, researching, attending meetings, completing paperwork, and meeting with parents as “astounding.” She also shared with me that exposure to this information prior to entering a classroom of her own will certainly prepare her for the challenges ahead.
After a year in the program, the student teacher showed many improvements based on formal and informal classroom observations from me, her college professors, and school administrators. The student teacher did not just look at teaching through the lens of an observer. She actually took part in the learning process and acquired valuable knowledge and skills along the way that helped to develop her practice.
Additionally, she was able to develop her teaching efficacy with the content knowledge she acquired, the classroom management strategies she added to her arsenal, and the communication skills she learned through her interaction with administrators, faculty members, parents, and most important, students.
Tips for Mentoring New Teachers
Based on my observations and experience with teacher mentoring programs, I have compiled a list of best practices for mentoring of new teachers to foster a strong sense of teaching efficacy and, hopefully, reduce teacher attrition. As a result of an effective teaching mentoring program, new teachers will develop a strong sense of resilience to the challenges and changes that plague the field of education and cause teachers to flee.
- Make every effort to make the new teacher feel welcomed and a part of the school family.
- Provide the new teacher with opportunities to work with an experienced and willing mentor immediately.
- Match the new teacher with a mentor who has been carefully selected based on a record of proven success, knowledge and skills, and who is the right fit for the new teacher.
- Provide opportunities for the new teacher to learn the ins and outs of the classroom from the start of the school year.
- Give the new teacher a myriad of opportunities to plan and collaborate with the mentor teacher and peers as well as learn “best practices” from job embedded professional development.
- Expose the new teacher to authentic teaching experiences and allow opportunities for rich reflection on a daily basis.
- Model for the new teacher how to institute a consistent and effective classroom management plan.
- Allow the new teacher the chance to handle all types of discipline problems in order to develop an arsenal of strategies.
- Support the new teacher as much as possible. Share valuable websites and resources.
- Give the new teacher the opportunity to attend professional development regularly in order to grow professionally.
Ingersoll, R. (2012). Beginning teacher induction WHAT THE DATA TELL US. Phi Delta
Kappan, 93(8), 47-51.
Lambeth, D. (2012). Effective practices and resources for support of beginning teachers.
Academic Leadership 10(1), 1–13.
Stacey-Ann Barrett is a fourth grade teacher at Boothville-Venice Elementary School in Plaquemines Parish, La. She is also a doctoral candidate at the University of Holy Cross.