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The Importance of a Beginning Teacher Mentor

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Like all teachers, I vividly remember my first year of teaching. I was hired in early August and had barely set my boxes down in my classroom, when a knock at the door presented an eager parent, toting a 3-inch binder. She introduced herself, promptly sat down, and expressed her desire to discuss her son’s Individualized Education Plan. Other than the principal’s administrative assistant, I was alone in the building. I was truly flying solo for the first time and it was terrifying. I managed to navigate the meeting, but knew that the year was going to be full of firsts. These experiences would either break me down or make me stronger.

Luckily for me, I was assigned a mentor. Without one, I could have easily been among the estimated 40-50% who leave teaching altogether within five years (Ingersoll, Merrill, & Stuckey, 2018). Mentoring accelerated my effectiveness, helped me to navigate the school culture, and forged relationships with colleagues, students, and families. My mentor truly cared about my success as a teacher. She pushed me to reflect and consider the implications of my decisions. She nurtured my social-emotional and instructional development while building my capacity to be an effective educator. I trusted her to guide without judgment and in confidence. Because of her, I stayed in the classroom for many years. I often reflect back and wonder what it would be like to navigate those early years without support?

Unfortunately, many beginning teachers have limited or no formal mentoring. Beginning teachers are less likely to have induction support when serving in schools with the highest concentrations of poor and minority students (Haynes, M., 2014). Mentoring support should not be a luck-of-the-draw situation based on school zip code, but rather a conscious, collective effort of states, districts, and teachers to support new educators. Quality mentoring and induction programs offer several important benefits to the profession, including:

  1. With district cost for teachers leaving the profession estimated at 20 percent of a teacher's salary (ASCD 2003), mentoring and induction programs are a low-cost solution.
  2. Induction and support to new teachers is a major factor influencing teacher's decision to enter, stay in, or (when lacking) leave the teaching profession (Podolsky, Kinl, Bishop & Darling-Hammond 2016).
  3. Multi-year mentoring programs that include instruction-focused supports can lead to better student outcomes (New Teacher Center, 2017).

The ‘greening’ of the teaching force as described by Ingersoll, Merrill, and Stuckey (2018) is “the result of increasing numbers of educators entering the profession (both young teachers and career switchers), with the modal teacher being a beginner in their first to third year of teaching”. WI Department of Public Instruction’s commitment to mentor training is evident in the recent release of Mentoring Essentials Series resources. The resources reflect a collaborative effort between the state agency, Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER), practicing Wisconsin teacher mentors, and Cooperating Education Support Agency (CESA) leaders. The resources are both necessary and timely, as the teaching force in Wisconsin and across the nation shifts from a veteran to beginning teacher population.

The resources are a great start, but will not likely make a difference in isolation from other efforts to enhance mentoring and induction support. Moving forward, I challenge my education colleagues to consider the components of quality induction programs as presented in the New Teacher Center’s (2018) Teacher Induction Program Standards and take steps to move away from programs that merely satisfy state requirements and move towards comprehensive induction programs. These programs can make a difference for both teachers and for students.


Article Submission: Written by Kris Joannes, Senior Outreach Specialist, Wisconsin Center for Education Research
Kris Joannes served for over twenty years in Wisconsin public schools as a classroom teacher, program coordinator, and teacher mentor. Additionally, Kris has been a leader in the implementation of Educator Effectiveness (EE) Systems in both Wisconsin and South Carolina. Kris currently works with the Wisconsin Center for Education Research and leads the DPI Educator Development and Support (EDS) teacher mentor training and resource revision initiative.