Chicago revamps mentoring for new teachers

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Following some start-up delays, the district has launched its latest new-teacher mentoring program in some 330 new schools—the third time in recent years that CPS has revamped teacher induction in a bid to raise teacher quality and improve retention.

Following some start-up delays, the district has launched its latest
new-teacher mentoring program in some 330 new schools—the third time in
recent years that CPS has revamped teacher induction in a bid to raise
teacher quality and improve retention.

The Chicago New Teacher Center is the district’s most ambitious effort
to date and marks the first time CPS has turned to an outside
organization—the highly regarded New Teacher Center, a nonprofit
organization that began at the University of California in Santa
Cruz—for mentoring and induction. The $3.5 million price tag (for about
1,000 teachers this year, or $3,500 per teacher) is far higher than for
previous programs, including the most recent GOLDEN mentoring program
and its predecessor, MINT.

The money, however, will provide a more extensive array of services,
including a two-day summer orientation, coaches, networking with other
rookie teachers and professional development events. The program could
end up saving money for some schools, says a CPS spokesman: With the
GOLDEN program, schools received a stipend to pay for mentoring, but
some schools supplemented the payment with their own discretionary
funds.

Delays initially cropped up last fall. For one, matching of new
teachers and mentors was slowed because schools did not always complete
their hiring in time and eligible teachers were not identified right
away.

The Center matches every new teacher with a coach, a veteran mentor who
works with 15 to 30 teachers at a time. The coaches observe and meet
with the veteran about three times a month during the school year, and
the mentors provide support in areas ranging from content knowledge to
lesson planning and classroom management strategies.

Ideally, the matches would be made before the start of the school year,
says David Osta, the Center’s director of policy and communications.
But this year, that did not happen. “Hiring tends to be a bit of a
rolling process in Chicago,” Osta says. “It doesn’t happen as smoothly
and stepwise as you’d always hope.”

The biggest challenge was identifying first- and second-year teachers,
who are eligible for the program, says CPS spokesman Malon Edwards. A
new tool that allows principals and district administrators to track
the tenure progress of probationary teachers will make the process
easier in the future, he says.

This year, coaches worked with principals to find first- and
second-year teachers who were not identified in the district’s human
resources database, Osta says. The group had to screen out those who
appeared to be new, but actually had experience teaching in a private
school or another state. Chicago New Teacher Center staff also examined
teachers’ graduation dates, looking for new hires who might have fallen
through the cracks.

“It’s always a challenge to locate first- and second-year teachers. The
data system isn’t exactly designed for that,” Osta says. “Where it is
not clear, we have to talk to them and find out a bit more about their
background and experience.”

Spurring research, improving school climate

The Center, which first debuted in CPS in 2006, is in a total of 375 schools this year. It is

optional for schools affiliated with other support programs, including
the Academy for Urban School Leadership, the Teacher Advancement
Program, and Fresh Start. (Just three schools opted out: Disney II
Magnet School in Irving Park, Northside College Prep in North Park, and
Fenger High School in Roseland.)

To smooth the transition from GOLDEN, coaches are tailoring their
practice to each principal’s goals, Osta says. “A lot of principals
previously did not know us,” he says. “We don’t want to be seen as
pushing into their building.”

Carl Dasko, the principal of Bateman Elementary School in Irving Park,
says his new teachers started to meet with their coaches in late
October. The program’s one weakness, Dasko notes, is the lack of daily
interaction with a mentor in the building—something that was provided
by GOLDEN.

“We informally hook them up with a teacher who can be a go-to person,
but that’s not nearly as structured as before,” Dasko says.

John Price, the principal of Audubon Elementary School in North Center,
says teachers are glad to work with a full-time coach who doesn’t
report to the same principal they do.

“One of the realities was that teachers have their own kids.
(Mentoring) was something that got added on when possible,” Price says.

Dasko and Price both believe the New Teacher Center’s work needs more evaluation.

“If the teachers are reporting that it’s not helpful or supportive,
then I’m going to try to advocate for something (based) here in the
school itself,” Price says.

The Consortium on Chicago School Research will spend the next year
analyzing the group’s coaching activities. A study slated to be
released in the fall will describe the coaches’ work and the practice
of the beginning teachers, laying the groundwork for possible
evaluation and impact studies in the future.

A report  that the
Consortium released this August – “The Schools Teachers Leave: Teacher
Mobility in Chicago Public Schools”
– found that schools with high
levels of parent involvement, a collaborative work environment, and
strong principal leadership have lower rates of teacher turnover.

In an effort to address two of those factors, the Center’s work
includes training on teacher-parent relationships and support for
principals whose schools have a high number of new teachers, Osta notes.

“We found that report to be very insightful,” he says. “It was a case
of research confirming what we’d experienced in the field.”