Working Models: Why Mentoring Programs May Be the Key to Teacher Retention

Article excerpt

By now, most everyone in education has heard the staggering statistic from the U.S. Department of Education: An estimated two million new teachers will need to be hired over the next 10 years. Sadly, hiring is just the first hurdle in the complex challenge of teacher retention. Approximately six percent of the nation's teachers leave the profession in a typical year, while seven percent change schools, the National Center for Education Studies has found. And within three years, 20 percent of all new hires leave teaching, while nearly half of newcomers in urban districts leave within the first five years.

With data this bleak, how can we ensure that new career and technical education (CTE) teachers--gleaned from a diversity of backgrounds and professions--are both confident and competent in the classroom?

According to the National Education Association (NEA), new teachers who participate in induction programs like mentoring are nearly twice as likely to stay in their profession. Some even believe that mentoring programs can cut the dropout rate from roughly 50 to 15 percent during the first five years of teaching.

"The mentoring process really can be so essential," says Tommie Radd, professor of counselor education at the University of Nebraska.

Indeed, schools across the nation are instituting comprehensive mentoring programs that boast benefits for both the mentor and mentee (or protege), including increased professional support, classroom and time management strategies, problem solving, grading procedures, and for many veteran teachers, a renewed interest in instruction.

The Changing Face of Mentoring

In his article "What's Happening in Mentoring and Induction in Each of the United States," Barry Sweeny tracked data on state-level mentoring programs, which often vary year-to-year due to funding cuts and policy changes. The surge of interest in mentoring began in the mid-1980s, with four major projects between 1985 and 1989 to examine mentoring and induction programs for new teachers, explains Sweeny, president of Best Practices Resources, an educational consulting firm based in Wheaton, Ill., and executive board member and cofounder of The Mentoring Leadership and Resource Network.

During this time period, mentoring programs grew dramatically, according to a 1987 survey by the Association of American Colleges for Teacher Education. While in 1986, 17 states had pilot programs underway and 14 states had programs under development, just one year later, only three states did not have a program.

Since the late '80s, however, the focus on accountability has changed the picture of mentoring for many programs, shifting from improving teacher learning to student testing, Sweeny says. In the article, he argues that mentoring programs span a continuum of assistance versus assessment models, based on whether they stress the support or evaluation of novice teachers. Too often, programs attempt to serve "both masters"--assessment and assistance--and this conflict has placed undue pressure on the resources of both mentors and new teachers, he says.

"When mentors have been made responsible for both these roles, the stress on the mentors and the required program resources are very high. The result has sometimes been that the program's success has been compromised," Sweeny says. "Linking the mentoring process to such a high-stakes result as granting or denying a teaching certificate may also have had a dampening effect on the mentoring relationship which is required for honest sharing of problems, open reflection and discussion of concerns, and a willingness to take the risks required for learning in front of one's colleague."

The reasons for the paradigm shift are multifaceted, he says, ranging from the influence of big business, with its emphasis on assessment products, to the preponderance of non-educators in the state legislature. Furthermore, President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 channels money "toward testing, not growth," Sweeny laments. …

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