Administrators and Mentors: Keys in the Success of Beginning Teachers

By Johnson, Harlan R. | Journal of Instructional Psychology, March 2001 | Go to article overview

Administrators and Mentors: Keys in the Success of Beginning Teachers


Johnson, Harlan R., Journal of Instructional Psychology


Beginning teachers often face challenges that are greater than those encountered by experienced teachers. This article addresses problems and concerns of beginning teachers through a review of professional literature and through the testimony of individuals who are new to the teaching profession. Strategies for school administrators and mentors to assist beginning teachers are presented. A major goal for administrators and veteran teachers should be to help teachers new to the profession remain in teaching. That goal may be achieved through administrators, experienced teachers, and beginning teachers all working together.

"Teaching has been a career in which the greatest challenge and most difficult responsibilities are faced by those with the least experience" (Glickman, Gordon, & Ross-Gordon, 1998, p. 21). At least 30 percent of beginning teachers leave the profession during the first two years (Casey & Mitchell, 1996). "Nearly two million new teachers are projected to enter U.S. schools in the next decade, and the challenge of supporting them effectively has become a critical issue" (Halford, 1998, p. 34).

This article includes the thoughts of one beginning teacher who decided to leave the profession and of two beginning teachers who decided to remain in the profession. The thoughts and concerns of beginning teachers and preservice teachers are followed by strategies to assist beginning teachers.

The concerns of beginning teachers and those preparing to enter teaching need to be addressed, because the profession cannot afford to lose the new members within its ranks. Snyder (1998) reported the number of new teachers since 1990 has barely kept pace with increases in school enrollment. "In some states and in urban areas the teacher shortage is dire, and it is a problem that is becoming apparent to the public" (Pipho, 1998, p. 181).

Shea (1993) voices the expectation that novice teachers will enter the classroom with enthusiasm, idealism, and optimism. A recent university graduate named Jason epitomized that expectation.

Jason completed his teacher preparation program with the capabilities, enthusiasm, and personal characteristics necessary for success in the teaching profession. After one year, he has already decided to leave the profession. Why did he make this decision.9 He felt unsupported by a principal who accommodated his veteran teachers at every turn and in so doing placed burdens upon beginning teachers, burdens they never should have had before they had some experience behind them.

Too many good teachers, like Jason, are leaving teaching before they have had a chance at much of a beginning. Sometimes the needs of new teachers are purposely ignored, as with Jason, and often there is a lack of understanding on the part of principals regarding the importance of easing new teachers into their careers, as shown by this all-too-frequent experience, one associated with a teacher named Julia: "Although the principal held a brief orientation for new teachers, the meeting was a perfunctory overview of school procedures, not a chance to build a support network or discuss the school's vision. Julia then learned that she would have four different course preparations for her five classes--and that the classes had become `dumping grounds' for students with chronic behavior, attendance, and learning difficulties" (Halford, 1998, p. 33).

In an informal poll of beginning teachers, some of my own students in teacher preparation, the following items stand out as some of the best ways to discourage new teachers and cause them to leave the profession:

* Assign them the classes experienced teachers don't want.

* Assign them the most troublesome students in the school.

* Assign them the most difficult duties outside of class.

* Don't help them or monitor their progress.

This is a list of experiences of university students who graduated with high expectations for themselves and for the people with whom they would be working. …

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