Making new teachers better

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Most teacher induction programs have a similar design: Send beginning teachers through an orientation and then a few workshops during the year, and assign them to a mentor—typically a more experienced teacher who is still working in the classroom.

But the teacher induction program run by the highly regarded New Teacher Center at the University of California-Santa Cruz goes beyond these basics to provide intensive support for both mentors and beginning teachers. The goal is to not only keep teachers in the classroom, but to improve teaching as well by introducing newcomers to best practices.

New mentors are selected through an exhaustive interview process conducted by teachers union representatives, veteran teacher-leaders, current and former mentors and district administrators.

Once selected, mentors receive extensive training before being assigned to new teachers, and ongoing training throughout the year. Training includes lessons on teaching and working with adults, using student work and data to guide teaching practices, collecting and analyzing data and building leadership skills. Mentors are required to meet weekly with colleagues during the two years of the program.

Perhaps most critically, mentors are released from their classrooms to work full-time with their new charges.

“Beginning teachers have someone to help them every step of the way,” says Ellen Moir, executive director of the New Teacher Center. “Our philosophy is that mentors have to have time to get into the [newcomer’s] classroom and that is why we release teachers for this job full-time, not just after school.”

Tom Ganser of the College of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, says the Center “has a comprehensive picture of mentoring. It reflects where we should be, seeing mentoring as something that can influence teachers beyond psychological support and survival, as a way of becoming a great teacher.”

The Center now has partnerships in 28 states and in Puerto Rico, using an induction model created in the late 1980s as part of the Santa Cruz New Teacher Project. Studies have found that 88 percent of teachers who participated are still in their classrooms, and 94 percent are still in the profession, according to Moir.

This year, as part of a federal study, the Center has brought a small-scale, one-year version of the program to 17 districts, including Chicago. In CPS, two mentors are working with 18 teachers in 12 schools until June.

The U.S. Department of Education commissioned Mathematica Policy Research based in Princeton, N.J., to conduct the five-year, $10.3 million study to examine the impact of high-quality induction programs on teacher retention and student learning.

As the study got underway last year, Mathematica chose the New Teacher Center and a similar program run by Educational Testing Service for the study.

Districts were selected based on size and poverty level, as well as willingness to participate and whether the district had an ongoing need for intensive teacher induction. Schools were randomly selected.

Other participating districts include Atlanta, Birmingham, Ala., Boston, Miami, Milwaukee and Philadelphia.

‘Best professional development I’ve had’

Mentors Helen Massey and Meghan Zefran say their training was rigorous and rewarding.

Massey, a former GOLDEN mentor who most recently taught at Nicholson Math and Science Elementary in Englewood, says new mentors learned, among other things, how to establish relationships with teachers and how to analyze student work with formative assessment.

“It was the best professional development I’ve had,” she says. “The support has been phenomenal.”

Meghan Zafran, also a former GOLDEN mentor, says the hands-on training held with mentors in California was especially effective. “They would go through scenarios with us. They really tried to work through those scenarios to help us understand the tools we were learning.”

Shanteau Williams, a new 4th-grade teacher at Abbott Elementary in Armour Square, says Massey taught her a small-group strategy to help her tailor instruction for students at varying academic levels. After dividing students into small groups according to ability, Williams then gave them different assignments. When teaching fractions, for example, Massey suggested giving struggling students just a few problems, along with objects like blocks to help them visualize and solve the problems. Students who understand the concept should be given more problems, Massey explained, and Williams should guide them to solve the problems on their own.

“Now, it’s like a light bulb has gone off,” Williams says. “Because I work with small groups, I can tell who gets it and who doesn’t. I couldn’t see that before.”

Jennifer Mapes, who teaches a 4th-grade program for gifted students at Beaubien Elementary in Jefferson Park, says Massey taught her to create project-based assignments, develop questions to prod students to use higher-order thinking skills and provided other techniques to guide students to complete their projects.

“My struggle was getting my students to take responsibility and be accountable for their work,” Mapes says.

The New Teacher Center hopes to continue its work in Chicago after this year.

“This has been a great opportunity for us,” says Mimi Appel, outreach coordinator for the center. “We look forward to building a partnership with CPS.”

Intern Cassie del Pilar contributed to this story.

To contact Debra Williams, call (312) 673-3873 or e-mail williams@catalyst-chicago.org.