For new kindergarten teachers planning their first parent conferences, sometimes it's the little things that count - like making sure you have a couple of adult-size chairs.
Lauren deDecker, a first-grade teacher in the Frisco Texas Independent School District, is spending her first year in the classroom. "If the classroom is designed for a 5-year-old, big chairs are something you have to remember," said Debbie Jarzombek, coordinator of a Frisco school district program that offers novice teachers the pearls of wisdom their veteran counterparts have collected.
Addressing Teacher Retention Problems
The Frisco Beginning Teacher Academy was started this year to bring together Frisco's novice teachers in workshops for support and to help combat an alarming national trend: novice teacher flight.
"We shouldn't expect people to walk straight out of college and be able to teach," said John Cole, president of the Texas Federation of Teachers. "Other professionals don't have to do that. Lawyers don't. Doctors don't. Architects don't."
While 22 percent of novice teachers nationwide leave the profession in the first three years, that number hovers at 37 percent in Texas, according to the Texas State Board for Educator Certification. Many experts agree the lack of support Texas teachers receive in those beginning years is a main cause. "There's a sink-or-swim approach to teaching today," said Mr. Cole.
Ms. Jarzombek said she and fellow academy coordinator Pat Garrison have used their combined 40 years of experience as teachers and principals to design the program and pitch the idea to the district. She said the time is right for the program. About 45 of the 120 teachers hired this year by the district have little or no experience. "We have to indoctrinate our new teachers to district policy as well as ensure they stay in the profession," Ms. Jarzombek said.
The academy meets four times a year and focuses on classroom management, testing and grading, and student learning styles. A large part of each meeting is devoted to small group work and communication between the novice teachers. New first-grade teacher Angela Modica said the group discussions were helping her find her way in her new profession. "All these people have the same problems as you," Ms. Modica said.
A Need for Mentoring Too!
While large workshops such as the new Frisco academy are a step in the right direction, aggressive, one-on-one mentoring programs are the key to high novice retention rates, Mr. Cole said. Nearly a decade ago, the Texas Legislature passed an amendment to the state's education code requiring that novice teachers participate in teacher orientations and be assigned mentors. But legislators did not propose funding for the measures or specifics on how districts should follow the rule.
Novice induction programs were left up to individual districts, said Leslie Huling, the chairwoman of a 1998 state agency panel that studied novice teacher retention strategies. Dr. Huling estimates 20 percent of districts have adhered to the spirit of the law, with an additional 60 percent complying in name only by pairing novices with mentors but giving little other direction.
The report released by Dr. Huling and the State Board for Educator Certification's Novice Teacher Induction Panel found that money spent by the state to support novice teacher mentoring programs would provide long-term savings to taxpayers as well as improve instruction.The panel recommended a state-assisted, two-year novice teacher retention program, including a $500 yearly stipend for teachers who serve as mentors and special training for volunteers. The recommendations were based on smaller mentoring programs used by some districts and universities across the state.
"Districts need to understand that the resources they place into novice support is a cost-saving benefit for the district," said Dr. Huling, Associate Dean of the college of education at Southwest Texas State University. "All the money districts spend on professional development and training for their new teachers just walks out with them when they leave."
Because of the high demand for teachers - Texas needed 300,000 ** new teachers this year - many new teachers are given greater responsibilities straight out of college and are asked to teach the most challenging subjects. Many also are being tapped to fill those empty classroom positions without full training. About 35,000 educators in Texas did not hold a full teaching certificate for their classroom subjects in 1998-99, according to the Texas Federation of Teachers.
State Program Funding
Spurred by increasing awareness and a three-year, $10 million federal grant awarded to Texas to study mentoring programs, the word on the benefits of novice support is beginning to get out to some districts.
Dallas Independent School District launched the Beginning Teacher Support and Mentoring Program for its novice teachers in December. The district-supported program, with a yearly budget of $324,000, offers training and stipends to mentor teachers. The four-member support staff has signed up 135 mentors to pair with the district's 437 novice teachers this year.
Dallas also has established a workshop program for teachers with the help of the Alliance/AFT, the local affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers. The 11,000-student Allen district revamped its mentoring program last year, providing the volunteer mentor teachers and novices with a day and a half of professional development.
** Editor's Note: As a consultant working in several programs in Texas I have had access to Texas State Board of Educator Certification statistics. That info states that the number of new teachers needed in Texas this year was 67,000. It appears that the 300,000 mentioned in this article might be a mistake. Perhaps it is the total number of teachers in Texas?
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The Mentoring Leadership & Resources Network is an affiliate of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. MLRN dedicated to helping educators support new teachers through quality induction mentoring programs. For information about MLRN contact Richard Lange, 834 Inverrary Lane, Deerfield, Illinois, 60015, USA