Mentoring Of New Teachers In New Zealand
by Dr. Mary C. Clement
This summer I had the opportunity to participate in a two-week educator's tour of New Zealand. So, while it was hot and humid here, I was wearing wool sweaters and visiting schools in the cities of Wellington, Hamilton, Rotorua, and Auckland. The school year in New Zealand begins in late January and concludes in early December, with several one and two-week holidays during that time. Five-year old children begin school on the day of their fifth birthday, soon any day of the year, the class of "new entrants" (kindergarten) can gain one or more new students. While this sounds like it could be chaotic, New Zealand educators feel that it is important for children to begin school as individuals, not in groups. Individually paced learning is stressed in the early grades, and students may stay 6 to 18 months in the equivalent of kindergarten/early first grade, depending upon their needs.
New Zealand has one of the highest literacy rates in the world and American educators have labeled the New Zealand style of teaching literacy as "whole language." In New Zealand the teachers say they are simply teaching by shared reading, grouped reading, independent reading, and writing. Language skills and group work seemed to be emphasized in
every class that I observed. Reading Recovery, a New Zealand-born program for helping children to master reading, is in place in almost all primary schools.
The routine of a first-year elementary teacher in New Zealand is somewhat different than that of a new teacher here. ALL first-year elementary teachers are assigned tutor teachers who will be their mentor for two years and to help them become established. Also, the new teacher will have up to one day a week of release time to meet with the tutor teacher, observe in his/her classroom, and catch up with the mountains of paperwork and planning required to be a successful teacher. During this one day a week the new teacher may choose to visit other teachers, other schools, or return to the university to research a special problem. A permanent substitute teacher is hired to replace the new teacher for this one day a week release, and therefore the students always see the same substitute in their class. The time may vary as well, perhaps two mornings a week, or one morning and one afternoon, with special arrangements as needed. Sometime the substitute will replace the tutor teacher so that he/she can go directly into the new teachers classroom to observe or assist with activities. The new teacher will have the same tutor teacher two years; the teacher will be evaluated by the principal and the tutor teacher, and this evaluation will determine the permanent registration of the new teacher.
New teachers are expected to return to their universities or a regional center of six to eight seminars during their first year of teaching. The topics for these seminars include classroom management, planning, dealing with disruptive students, and specifics for the curricular areas of math, reading, language, art, music, and P.E. Their tutor teachers are expected to participate in university training, also. The programs for tutor teachers make them aware of their obligations with regard to the evaluation of the new teacher for registration. For example, they receive training in how to write the final recommendation. The seminars also provide tutors with train ing for advising and guiding the new teacher. Sometimes university personnel make on-site visits to talk with their recent graduates. (Yates, 1994).
The first-year teachers with whom I visited reported that they liked the support of their tutor teachers and of the university seminars. They said that they could not imagine trying to do everything required of a veteran teacher without the release time for "catching up and getting organized". Elementary classes in New Zealand are large - 30 to 40 students per class, and teachers are expected to create many of their own materials, so everyone agreed that they really needed the release
time and the help of the tutor teacher nearby. Some secondary teachers have tutor teachers and/or release time. At the secondary level, the individual schools generally decide how they will assist their newly hired teachers. Since the New Zealand schools have undergone many reforms since 1989, the programs for beginning teachers vary somewhat
from region to region, but nationwide the models are in place and working.
There are many similarities between the beginning teacher programs in place in New Zealand and some of the programs in place in our Illinois schools. Specifically, in both NZ and Illinois the topics of classroom management, organization, and planning are central to seminars for the new teachers. In essence, "teaching is teaching" and a new teacher anywhere in the world will face challenges and successes. In both locations experienced, veteran teachers are called upon to mentor the newly hired teachers and this pairing will not only help the new teacher but will also be refreshing for the mentor/tutor. One of the strengths of New Zealand's program is providing the new teacher with release time. I share this example with Illinois administrators and hope to convince them that if NZ schools can provide this much release time, then our schools can certainly provide SOME time!
Both NZ and Illinois schools see the need for providing help for beginning teachers. In a national research report about first-year teachers in New Zealand, a new teacher compared learning to teach with learning to ride a bike. She said, "I can see where I have changed from starting off to where I am now. I liken it to riding a bike. When you first start learning to ride all you are worried about is staying up and balancing. I'm getting to the stage now where I can balance all right and I'm starting to look at the road. Slowly my vision is starting to widen." (Renwick & Vize, 1993). A successful mentor program will help the new teacher to initially "stay up and balance." An effective new teacher is one who will then "start looking at the road."
Renwick, M. and Vize. (1993). Windows on Teacher Education: Student Progress Through College of Education - The First Year in the Classroom. Wellington, NZ: New Zealand Council for Educational Research.
Yates, R. (1994, July). Our graduates have gone - What place now for the school of education? Paper presented at the Australian Teacher Education Association Conference, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia.
For more information about the Educator's Tour of New Zealand in which this author participated, please see the article, "A Long Way to Go" by Elizabeth Schulz in the February, 1993, issue of Teacher Magazine.
Dr. Mary C. Clement serves as the coordinator of the Beginning Teacher Program at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, IL.