Beginning Teacher Advisory Programs: Effects On Beginning Teachers

by Brenda Mahler, May 2001

"National attrition rates indicate that 17 percent of educators leave teaching after one year, 30 percent after two years, 40 percent after three years, nearly half after five years and up to 80 percent after ten years." (Heyns 1988, Huling-Austin 1986, Morey and Murphy 1990)

"Replacing a worker costs 25% of that person's salary, the higher cost of losing qualified teachers is paid by the students - lack experienced teachers - expertise and insight." (Norton 1999)


INTRODUCTION
The different roles I represent in the educational community have shaped a curiosity about the struggles of beginning teachers in the classroom. As a middle school, language arts teacher for fifteen years, I have witnessed the difficult situations that await beginning teachers. For example, I have watched beginning teachers, those in their first year of the profession, traveling from room to room when there was a shortage of classrooms. They are assigned the multiple schedules that require excessive preparation time; extra duties are often shifted to them, and their classrooms become the dumping grounds for the difficult students. How can the traditional induction system be revised to increase support for beginning teachers?
As a mother of one middle school and one high school child, I have often heard and unfortunately said, "Well, he is a first year teacher. He will
get better." I have watched as beginning teachers struggled with building policies, management, procedures, and curriculum issues. As a mother, I have crossed my fingers hoping my child would not get in the first year teacher's room as she still has so much to learn. I have listened as other parents said, "My child can't afford to lose a year of education." Does mentoring have a positive impact on students of beginning teachers?


Currently, with the start of the 2000-2001 school year, I am working as a Beginning Teacher Advisor. I provide procedural, curriculum, and testing
information, train on the computer grade book, demonstrate lesson presentations, suggest management strategies, and offer support in any form
necessary to help teachers find success. As I have reflected on my position one question reoccurs. Which mentoring strategies are effective
in the support and development of skills of beginning teachers?

Rationale for the Study
"A 1996 report by the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future estimated that in the next ten years, half of the nation's educators would
retire. This factor combined with an expected increase in the number of students means that by 2005, the nation's classrooms will need more than
two million new educators". ( Boreen, Johnson, Niday, Potts, 2000) With this information the necessity for more teachers becomes a reality.

Impact on Students
Though the cost of attrition seems significant based upon the research, no actions in education can be supported unless they have a positive impact on students. Tetzlaff and Wagstaff discovered mentoring played a role in the success of beginning teachers. Teachers who are mentored typically develop a strong self-concept, become consistent in policies and procedures, show a greater focus on the purpose within the classroom, display more confidence in self which increases their ability to help students and thereby increases expectations and achievement. (1992). Teachers who display these traits become instructors who have something to offer to the students and are recognized as professionals in their field. And finally in a period of history that is focusing on school reform, Joan Montgomery Hafford stresses the need for mentoring based on the belief that attrition slows the pace of reform (1999). If the turnover rate is forever increasing or remaining constant how can change occur?

Mentoring Strategies
It would be impossible to report all the strategies applied when mentoring. However, several sources have been extremely valuable for me as an advisor. In How to Be an Effective Teacher, Wong provides five significant concepts that enhance positive expectations, offers management suggestions, and suggests rules and expectations (1998). A strength of Secrets of Secondary School Teacher is its ability to help teachers manage
the paperwork (Kottler, Kottler, Kottler, 1998). Portfolios are a focus in Mentoring Beginning Teachers where the portfolio becomes the means for
reflection, establishing goals, and promoting self-assessment (Boreen, Johnson, Niday, Potts, 2000).
Researchers who desire to define effective strategies to assist beginning teachers also present best practices. Cognitive Coaching is one of the most emphasized as valuable and is currently emerging forcefully on the educational scene
(Costa, Garmston, 1994). The most recent synthesis shares these culminating findings (Edwards, 2001)

1. Cognitive Coaching was linked with increased student test scores and other benefits for students.
2. Teachers grew in teaching efficacy.
3. Cognitive Coaching impacted teacher thinking, causing teachers to be more reflective and to think in more complex ways.
4. Teachers were more satisfied with their positions and with their choice of teaching as a profession.
5. School cultures became more professional.
6. Teachers collaborated more.
7. Cognitive Coaching assisted teachers professionally.
8. Cognitive Coaching benefited teachers professionally."


METHOD

Participants
As a Beginning Teacher Advisor (BTA), I have a caseload of 31 beginning teachers employed in grades six through twelve. They work in seven different schools throughout the district, two of which are alternative schools while the other four are traditional. From these I asked for volunteers to participate in a study of the effectiveness of the program. In an attempt to create a representative but yet manageable group, the volunteers were then pared down to a participant group of ten consisting of five males and five females. Their teaching assignments encompassed grades six through twelve in the subjects of English, art, history, math, science, and reading.
The participants came from different backgrounds. Two have a half a year of previous teaching experience. They come from 4 different teacher preparation institutions. Their ages span from 22 to 45 with this being the first full time employment for some while another owns his own business and another has been a manager for a large company chain. Their personal lives vary, as they range from single and living alone to married with children. This variety was preferred because each brought different experiences to the teaching environment.

RESEARCH ANALYSIS:

Numerous data collection strategies were applied to investigate the three
questions posed in the research proposal. Each data collection strategy
offered valuable feedback to launch interpretations, recommendations, and
responses to each posed questions. Below is a compiled list of the
strategies that will be referred to in the following discussion.

Beginning teachers' comments (written and oral)
Advisor's journalistic notes
Beginning teachers' surveys and interviews
Administrators' surveys
Educational assistants' interviews
Seminar reflections
Beginning teacher mid-year reflective conferences and goal setting

Throughout this discussion, numbers that were assigned randomly refer to the teachers. This technique creates anonymity but allows the reader to observe the different responses provided by different respondents. Throughout the seven months during which this research wascollected, I recorded 67 different activities that were employed when interacting with beginning teachers. During the first semester these 31 beginning teachers participated in 248 conferences, 32 complete cognitive coaching cycles, 32 demonstrations by the advisor, and 200 observationswere conducted of their lessons.

DATA ANALYSIS:

… Which mentoring strategies are effective in the support and developmentof skills of beginning teachers? The teacher survey consisted of eleven questions. One of which required the eighty-six respondents to rank in order the mentoring strategies that were the most helpful. The responses revealed that each of the eleven strategies appealed to someone as each one was ranked in the top five. However, four strategies were ranked in the top five a significant number of times: emotional support 80%, the opportunity to network with other first year teachers 69%, access to a mentor 62%, and class observations by a mentor / advisor 58%.
Through on-going conferences and written communications these assets were also mentioned. Teacher #1 responded, "My advisor is a life safer and has many times helped me work things out and focus things in." This same teacher later wrote, "This is a program that needs to be bottled and sold to every school district in the United States. Retention rates would soar." Teacher two found value as we discussed how to "work with parents who challenge the system and are difficult to deal with." "Organizational strategies have been a focus," responded teacher five when asked what area the program had been of greatest assistance.
Personal testimony has verified frequently that different strategies prove successful for different teachers. Communications with teachers obtained these reports about the effectiveness of a seminar for first year teachers. "I received many ideas on how to handle minor and major issues," stated teacher four when asked what she gained from the bi-weekly seminar for beginning teachers. Teacher two needed moral support when he wrote, "Today I just felt really overwhelmed and that I wasn't being a successful teacher." The availability of a nonjudgmental supporter met his needs. But in contrast teacher three was in need of a more direct approach. After an advisor taught a demonstration class for her, she responded, "You were my savior today - You taught my advisory debate so well - It felt very good to watch.

Time always seemed to be an obstacle to teachers. With a desire for seventh grade English teachers to collaborate on lesson plans, I taught classes to release teachers so they could work together. During this time they supplemented each other's ideas, exchanged strategies, and established common policies to create consistency in the building.
Informal conferences have allowed teachers to walk away with instructional strategies as reinforced by teacher six, "Thanks for the vote of confidence! I put the fishbowl into effect the next period (and the rest of the day) and it worked really well." To my amazement often strategies were implemented immediately into the class lesson plans. For example, once when I walked into an Occupational Health class the teacher identified that the students weren't finding success applying the complex anatomy terms. After a short discussion, it was decided a hands-on activity where the students label the body parts after tracing life size silhouettes would increase their success. I obtained the supplies while the teacher summarized the current activity. When I returned, the students began drawing and labeling. It was a success!

Cognitive coaching was a strategy implemented to promote reflective thinking. It was a goal of our program that teachers began to reflect on their lessons regularly. A coaching session consisted of a pre-conference, observation, and post-conference. During a pre-conference with teacher nine, she expressed a desire that data on the pacing of the lesson be recorded. During the observation, I recorded the beginning and ending time of each segment of the lesson. At the post-conference the teacher read the data and made the comment that wait time was used extensively as a strategy to quiet the class. She then expressed a concern over the lost instruction time. When she asked for ideas, we discussed the difference between behavior intervention and discipline, and we brainstormed strategies for classroom management.
Teacher two requested student motivational strategies and discovered that when students were engaged in a lesson the distractions significantly
decreased. And yet another teacher, number five, noted, "the class was showing improvement at staying on-task and using class time" when a conference with the advisor prompted him to implement some behavior management strategies. After the necessity to re-teach expectations was discussed, teacher three responded, "Tomorrow I will re-teach (behaviors) and question my students to improve the environment". Finally, teacher seven expressed the benefit for the students when the advisor helped him obtain, interpret, and understand the districts' assessment policies and
procedures.
The obvious became true as teachers developed clear expectations for behavior and responded to student behaviors in a consistent manner. Students' conduct improved and positive learning environments were developed. Teacher six wrote that after reviewing the data collected by her advisor that she had discovered two things: "I need to not reinforce talking out behaviors. When a child shouted out, 'May I pass out the rulers?' I rewarded his outburst with an affirmative answer. Also, I need to increase my awareness. I didn't even know the principal was in my room until you told me, or that the girl had her hand raised for such a long time."

… Does mentoring have a positive impact on students of beginning teachers?
When reviewing teachers' comments stated in the first section it is evidenced that through the numerous strategies provided by the Beginning Teacher Advisor, the students were positively impacted. For instance, the teacher who increased organizational strategies became a better role model,accomplished non-instructional duties without interrupting instructional time, and was able to offer more immediate feedback to students. When a teacher learned how to work with parents the two became a team striving toward a common goal. Early in the school year a teacher was worried about how to address a parent's concerns about discipline. Prior to the conference, the teacher and I role played the conference, anticipated the direction of the discussion, and brainstormed solutions. The conference was successful in creating a plan that led to positive rapport between student and teacher.
Again, the teacher questionnaire provided meaningful data in direct response to this question. Question one stated, "The Beginning TeacherAdvisory Program has a positive impact on students". Seventy percent of the respondents agreed by circling a one or two and again less than 1% disagreed. This data suggested an apparent link between an advisory program and students as observed through the eyes of teachers. The administrators' questionnaire produced similar results. Of the twenty-three responses to this question, all agreed or strongly agreed. Administrators suggested through comments that students are directly affected as the skills of a teacher improved and that this advisory program increased the growth of beginning teachers at a significant rate. Some of their comments, in fact, expressed a need for an increased ratio of advisors to teachers and continual support for second and third year teachers. The administrators strongly supported the advisory program as they had directly witnessed the impact. Another question asked, "Does the BTA program accelerate teacher expertise?" The response was overwhelming, "Strongly agree".

… How can the traditional induction program be revised to increase support for first year teachers thus retaining them in the field of education?
Finally, the questionnaire data addressed the final research question when beginning teachers were asked to respond to the statement, "The Beginning Teacher Advisory Program will help retain teachers in the teaching profession." With the response of one indicating agreement and five indicating disagreement, 76% of the respondents circled one or two; less than 1% circled four or five. At the time of the survey, midyear, the impact on teachers to remain in the classroom was evident. Future questions still exist: How will teachers respond to this question at the end of the year? How will this program affect the retention of teachers in the future? Records documenting returning teachers and an exiting survey for non-returning staff will help to answer these questions. Again, the administrator's survey supported the findings of the teachers' survey. Administrators believe the support offered first year teachers would help the retention rate. At the outset of this research, the most obvious repeating fact was the looming prospect of a teacher shortage. With the data and research it was evident that beginning teacher programs may positively impact this shortage.

RECOMMENDATIONS:
Several important areas were identified as needing remediation. The most significant probably was the school climate. This was defined as the environment teachers entered and the conditions under which they work. Teachers often expressed frustration at the established climate in the building. They vocalized a need to have time available to meet with mentors and observe others in similar teaching assignments.
Overwhelmingly, space was listed as a concern. Frequently, the environment didn't welcome new teachers into the profession. A peer advisor observed through informal research that the teachers who struggled the most tended to be those that had multiple teaching assignments, traveled from room to room, and had limited preparation time. The second concern mentioned was a need for paradigm shifts. A common belief was that a veteran teacher has "put in their time" thus were provided privileges that a beginning teacher didn't benefit from. However, if education is to recruit and keep new teachers to the occupation, they must abandon this idea. Beginning teachers expressed a desire to have a feeling of ownership in the building. They yearned to have input into schedules, student placement, and curriculum. New teachers wanted to be included in the community of educators.
Ultimately, the literature, the research, the data, and common sense told us to reevaluate the traditional induction programs for first year teachers. It became apparent that abundant strategies exist to support beginning teachers, mentoring can impact students positively, and there is a need to mentor teachers as they enter the classrooms. By applying these findings and continuing the effort to make schools more inviting as well as less threatening, all educational stakeholders will benefit.








References
Boreen, J., Johnson, M. K., Niday, D. & Potts, J. (2000). Mentoring beginning teachers: Guiding, reflecting, coaching. York, ME: StenhousePublishers.

Costa, A. L., & Garmston, R. (1994). Cognitive coaching: A foundation for renaissance schools. Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon Publishers, INC.

Edwards, Jenny, Ph.D. (2001, January). Cognitive Coaching: A sythesis of the Research. Highlands Ranch, CO: Center for Cognitive Coaching.

Heyns, Barbara, (1988). Educational defectors: A first look at teacher attrition. Educational Researcher. 17, 3: 24-32.

Halford, J.M. (1999). What do new teachers need? In Scherer, M. (Ed.), A Better Beginning: Supporting and Mentoring New Teachers. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Kottler, E., Kottler, J., & Kottler, C. J. (1998). Secrets for secondary school teachers: How to succeed in your first year. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Morey, Ann I., & Murphy, Diane. (1990) Designing a Program for New Teachers: The California Experience. San Francisco, Far West Laboratory for Educational Research and Development.

Norton, M. S. (1999). Teacher retention: Reducing costly teacher turnover. Contemporary Education, 70 (3), 52-55.

Telzlaff, `Judie, & Wagstaff, Imelda. (1999). Mentoring new teachers. Teaching and Change. Washington, DC: NEA Professional Library and Corwin Press, Inc., 6, 285,