MLRN's Recent "Mentorings"
The Teach Program: A First-Year Teacher Mentoring Program

By: Mara Jambor, Ed.D & Ron Jones, Ed.D

Published by MLRN in the Summer 1007 issue of "Mentorings"

A common approach to inducting teachers is the "sink or swim" method in which first-year teachers are left on their own and are offered very little assistance as they begin their teaching careers. No matter what their backgrounds or capabilities, they are given the same responsibilities as twenty-year veterans and are expected to teach well. In fact, one researcher noted that there are three unspoken proverbs for new teachers in a school culture: "Figure it out for yourself. Do it yourself. Keep it to yourself" (Darling-Hammond, 1988).

Frustrated by the enormous demands placed upon them, many first-year teachers struggle with classroom management and discipline, often focusing upon strategies designed to control student behavior rather than to promote learning (Hawley & Rosenholtz, 1985). Some become authoritarian and custodial (Kagen, 1992). Others cannot adjust and choose to leave the teaching profession (Kilbourn & Roberts, 1991). Thirty percent of beginning teachers leave the profession within their first two years (Schlecty & Vance, 1983). The number of teachers who have left the teaching profession after seven years is between 40 - 50 percent (Gordon, 1991). Due to the nature of the workplace, the academically talented are the ones most likely to leave to pursue other careers (Rosenholtz, 1987).

Recognizing that the "sink or swim" approach is not a model for induction, many school districts have implemented beginning teacher assistance programs which utilize mentors. Most mentoring programs assign mentors who still have their own classroom responsibilities to assist a first-year teacher. In other programs, mentors are removed from their classroom but are responsible for a large number (10 - 17 or more) of first-year teachers. Few programs keep a low ratio between a mentor who has no classroom responsibilities and a first-year teacher. The Jefferson County School System in Birmingham, Alabama, has developed a unique program which keeps a ratio of three first-year teachers to one full time mentor who has been relieved of teaching responsibilities. While focusing on the needs of first-year teachers, Jefferson County's Teacher Excellence Actually Can Happen (TEACH) Program also strengthens the knowledge and skills of the master teachers involved.



FINANCIAL CONSIDERATIONS
The TEACH Program is a no-cost, three-part induction program which includes full time mentoring of select first-year teachers, an innovative master's degree program and collaboration with the local business community...all at no cost to the school district. This successful model was established in 1988.

The developers of The TEACH Program turned to the medical profession for inspiration and adopted the idea of interns working under the guidance of experts while earning a reduced salary. Program developers, after receiving a nod of approval from the local teachers' unions, implemented a reduced salary schedule for the first-year teachers. The first-year teachers in The TEACH Program earn half the normal first-year teacher's salary, but they do receive all benefits plus a year towards tenure. In essence, two of the salary "halves" which are not given to the first-year teachers are used to pay the mentor's salary. The third "half" salary is placed into an account from which the first-year teachers' master's degrees are funded. (See figure 1.)


Fig. 1: Structure of the Financial Support Relationships


 Mentor

 Mentor

 Mentor

 FYT ^

 FYT ^

 FYT \/

 FYT ^

 FYT ^

 FYT \/

 FYT ^

 FYT ^

 FYT \/

 University Tuition Account

  FYT \/

  FYT \/

  FYT ^

  FYT \/

  FYT \/

  FYT ^

  FYT \/

  FYT \/

  FYT ^

  Mentor

  Mentor

  Mentor




FYT= First-Year Teacher
^ or \/ indicates half salary contributing to tuition account or to support of mentor



Fig. 2: Financial Overview

 

The TEACH Program

 VS.

Traditional Program

 
   Accelerated Masters Degree   Complete Masters Degree in 4-5 years  

 Year 1

$12,451   $24,902  

 2

  25,039     25,039  

 3

  28,908     25,245  

 4

  31,979     27,994  

 5

  32,402     28,418  

 

 + 3,300  Graduate Scholarship   - 3,300  Graduate Tuition

 Total

$132,727  Five Year Compensation* $128,298  Five Year Compensation


* Does not factor in the cost of lap-top computer or benefit of intensive support by mentor. Salary figures are from 1995-96 salary schedule. There is no projected raise during the five-year period.



Part I: FULL TIME MENTORING
In The TEACH Program, master teachers are identified and are invited to step out of their classrooms for a year in order to mentor three first-year teachers. One of the three first-year teachers steps into the mentor's classroom and the other two are placed in open vacancies in the district.

Mentors meet with their first-year novices during the summer preceding the start of the school year. During this time, the first-year teachers get a head start on preparing their rooms, becoming familiar with the school, discussing classroom management and organization and coping with the multitude of other odds and ends which will contribute to a smooth opening of school. In those rare circumstances when a first-year teacher doesn't get assigned a room until just before school starts, or an unexpected room change occurs at the last minute, the mentor is there to offer support, guidance and assistance. The first-year teacher is NEVER left alone to "sink or swim."

During the year, the mentor teacher focuses on coaching and encourages the first-year teacher to reflect upon his/her performance. At times, the mentor will model specific lessons or perhaps invite other full time mentors to model. At other times, the mentor will teach the students while the first-year teacher observes in another teacher's classroom or even at another school. The goal of these activities is to offer the first-year teacher many opportunities to observe successful practices.

Besides addressing the needs of first-year teachers, The TEACH Program offers a singular opportunity for master teachers to reflect and grow. The teaching profession is rather unique in that it offers very few rewards for seasoned veterans. First, most pay raises occur in the first half of a one's teaching career, and there are few opportunities to reward the efforts of master teachers. This program gives master teachers who, according to Erik Erikson are in danger of stagnating, an opportunity to thrive by nurturing and supporting novices. Second, this program offers master teachers the unique opportunity of emerging from their isolated classrooms and seeing what is going on in their school district, thereby gaining an understanding and appreciation of the broad picture of their district. Over the past seven years, many mentors have commented that they learned more than the beginning teachers they mentored. Many mentors have returned to their classroom and have become leaders for school based or district initiated efforts. Yet another serendipity benefit for the school district is that a number of mentors have used the mentoring opportunity to reassess their own career goals. Forty percent of the mentors have elected to pursue administrative certification. Obviously, the growth that occurs in the mentor/first-year teacher dyad is not limited to the first-year teacher. Both benefit!


Part II: AN INNOVATIVE MASTER'S DEGREE
In collaboration with the University of Alabama at Birmingham, The TEACH Program offers an accelerated master's degree program that allows first-year teachers to graduate after two years. A three credit computer course begins during the summer preceding the first year of teaching. Six more credit hours are earned in computer technology during the first year. The success of the technology component is based upon the fact that the first-year teachers are able to learn their computer skills within the context of meaningful classroom experiences. Everything that is learned in computer class is directly applicable to the classroom and is implemented almost immediately. These college credit hours translate into authentic learning time, not just "seat time."

Under the auspices of the university, mentor teachers guide their first-year teachers in a series of reflective experiences focusing on specific teaching successes and growth strategies. The goal is to create a reflective practitioner who will continue to be a life-long learner. During the first year, graduate credit hours are earned through meaningful, context-based experiences. In the second year, the novice teachers participate in monthly seminars as well as in more traditional university-based class work during the summers. Twenty-four credit hours are earned through special projects, seminars and traditional classes in two summer terms. These teachers will begin their third year of teaching with a master's degree.



Part III: BUSINESS/COMMUNITY COLLABORATION
Close collaboration with the local business community has proven to be very fruitful. Local businesses are invited to "adopt" a first-year teacher by donating $1,500 which is used to purchase a laptop computer for the exclusive use of the adopted teacher. Throughout the school year the adopted teachers communicate with their business partners, sending examples of computer generated work and photos of classroom events. Business leaders are pleased to know exactly where their financial support has gone and they realize they are contributing to positive educational reform by impacting one classroom teacher.



PROGRAM RESULTS
This no-cost program of intensive support is paying great dividends. After seven years, the attrition rate (determined by those who have remained in the teaching profession) stands at 10%, which is well below the earlier stated 40-60%. A number of district principals have requested that any first-year teacher assigned to their school be involved in The TEACH Program. Not only have the graduates of The TEACH Program started their careers under the guidance of a master teacher, but the master teachers have also enjoyed a year of growth and learning. This is a program that can easily be replicated with the participation of a willing cohort of teachers, a local school district commitment, an innovative university and a supportive business community.



CONCLUSIONS
Improving professional performance must be one of the goals not only of our nation's school districts, but of local universities and the communities in which the schools are located. The broad based, collaborative effort exemplified by The TEACH Program is an example of how one school district chose to forge the partnerships necessary to provide meaningful professional growth for its teachers. It has been called "the Cadillac of induction programs," but fortunately, it does not carry a Cadillac price!



PROGRAM STATISTICS

Jefferson County, a school district of 41,000 students, started The TEACH Program in 1988 in a collaborative effort with Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. One-hundred-five teachers and thirty-three mentors have participated in the program since its beginning. Seventy-nine of the teachers are currently teaching in Jefferson County. Eleven are employed in other school districts. Six have left teaching and five have been non renewed. Three are currently on maternity leave and are expected to return.

Three former mentors are now principals, five are serving as assistant principals and seven are serving in support roles for other teachers in a district level assignment. Five are currently enrolled in graduate school preparing for an administrative position.

Approximately 125 certified teachers attended a ninety minute orientation program and made application for the 1995-96 TEACH Program. With more than one-thousand applicants applying for district openings, Jefferson County employed sixty-two new elementary/early childhood teachers for the 1995-96 school year. Fourteen had previous experience in other school districts. Twenty-seven are receiving traditional first-year teacher assistance and twenty-one were accepted into the 1995-96 TEACH Program.

The cumulative grade point average (GPA) of the twenty-one first-year teachers was slightly more than 3.50. Experience has shown that the best and brightest profit the most from an intensive mentoring relationship.




Acknowledgments

Darling-Hammond, L. (1988). The case for a supervised teaching internship. In New Directions for Teacher Assessment. Proceedings of the 1988 ETS Invitational Conference. Princeton, New Jersey: ETS.

Gordon, S.P. (1991). How to Help Beginning Teachers Succeed. Alexandria, Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Hawley, W., & Rosenholtz, S. (1985). Good schools: What research says about improving student achievement. Peabody Journal of Education, 61, (4), 1-178.

Kagen, D.M. (1992). Professional growth among preservice and beginning teachers. Review of Educational Research, 62, (2), 129-169.

Kilbourn, B., & Roberts, G. (1991). May's first year: Conversations with a mentor. Teachers College Record, 93 (2), 252-264.

Rosenholtz, S. (1987). The first years of teaching: Background papers and a proposal. Unpublished article, University of Illinois at Chicago.

Schlechty, P., & Vance, V. (1983). Recruitment, selection, and retention: The shape of the teaching force. The Elementary School Journal, 83, (4), 469-486.

Mara Jambor is an Elementary Resource Specialist and & Ron Jones is the Director of Staff Development at the Jefferson County School District, Birmingham, Alabama.