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Supporting Beginning Teachers

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Give new teachers the time and professional guidance they need to become expert teachers. Investigate key research, and examine the four types of support—physical, emotional, instructional, and institutional—that are crucial during a teacher’s first year in the classroom. Discover essential strategies for K–12 mentors, coaches, and school leaders to develop an effective mentoring program schoolwide.

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Chapter 1: Research and Theory

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Chapter 1

RESEARCH AND THEORY

Retaining effective teachers poses a unique problem for the education community. In 2007, the U.S. teacher turnover rate was 16.8 percent and in certain urban schools reached more than 20 percent (National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future [NCTAF], 2007). In some schools and districts, teachers drop out at an even higher rate than students (NCTAF, 2007). Compared to other professions such as law, architecture, and nursing, teacher turnover is relatively high (Ingersoll, 2003; Ingersoll & Perda, 2010)—almost 4 percent higher than in all other fields (NCTAF, 2003). Every year, schools in the United States hire more than two hundred thousand new teachers for the first day of school; however, by the end of the academic year, at least twenty-two thousand have already quit teaching (Graziano, 2005). Michael B. Allen (2005) reported that roughly half of new teachers leave within five years, although Annette L. Breaux and Harry K. Wong (2003) found that between 40 and 50 percent leave during the first seven years. Impending teacher retirements add another dimension to the problem of teacher turnover. Thirty-seven percent of current teachers are over age fifty (Allen, 2005). Therefore, by 2035, it is likely that the education community will also lose many of its experienced teachers.

 

Chapter 2: Designing an Effective Mentoring Program

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Chapter 2

DESIGNING AN EFFECTIVE MENTORING PROGRAM

The word mentor comes from Homer’s Odyssey, which tells the story of the Greek hero Odysseus and his voyage home after the fall of Troy (Brockbank & McGill, 2006). During his absence, Odysseus entrusts his son, Telemachus, to a wise friend named Mentor. While he does not replace Odysseus as a parent, Mentor does become a counselor, guardian, and guide to Telemachus. He offers the young man support, inspires him to face challenges, and helps him understand and embrace the difficulties that lie ahead.

Teacher mentors must fulfill a similar variety of roles in their work and relationships with beginning teachers. According to Laura Lipton and Bruce Wellman (2001), effective mentors offer comfort, create challenge, and facilitate a professional vision. They explained, “These functions can operate independently in specific situations, but in the greater context of the relationship they must be connected. Balancing these three elements energizes growth and learning” (p. 1). For example, it is important to help new teachers feel comfortable, but offering comfort without challenge may eventually foster complacency. Creating challenge without offering comfort, on the other hand, can heighten feelings of anxiety and failure. Offering comfort and creating challenge without facilitating vision can leave new teachers without a feeling of larger purpose, looking only at the ground beneath them but not at the road ahead.

 

Chapter 3: Providing Physical Support

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Chapter 3

PROVIDING PHYSICAL SUPPORT

Beginning teachers want to start the year off well. They feel excited about meeting their students and using the lessons they created in their teaching methods classes. However, many beginning teachers worry about the logistics of starting off the year on the right foot: “How should I set up the classroom? Where is the library? What is the process for getting a substitute teacher?” These teachers, when confronted with a new environment, are excited to start yet lack the physical resources and logistical knowledge to effectively navigate the first few months of school.

As explained in chapter 2, a beginning teacher whose concerns mainly involve materials and logistical issues needs physical support. Physical support involves helping a beginning teacher with school processes and procedures such as arranging furniture, understanding paperwork systems, and obtaining materials for specific units and lessons. When a mentor offers physical support, he or she helps ensure that the beginning teacher starts off on the right foot. Without an organized classroom, adequate supplies, and an understanding of the school’s existing logistical practices, a new teacher begins the year on unstable ground.

 

Chapter 4: Providing Emotional Support

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Chapter 4

PROVIDING EMOTIONAL SUPPORT

Most beginning teachers reach a point in their first year when they struggle to keep up with their workload. When this happens, they might begin staying very late after school to work, even after all the other teachers have left the building. Beginning teachers may also spend Friday nights and Saturdays in their classrooms, trying to prepare effective lesson plans, catch up on grading and progress reports, and keep up with a flood of emails from parents and colleagues. They might even begin to have second thoughts about becoming a teacher and wonder how they will ever make it to the end of the school year.

From feelings of exhaustion, isolation, and self-doubt to feelings of stress surrounding the overwhelming number of practical tasks and amount of logistical information, the few first years of teaching can be fraught with emotional obstacles. A teacher who requires emotional support needs coping strategies for responding to these challenges in a healthy way and reassurance to promote self-confidence.

 

Chapter 5: Providing Instructional Support

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Chapter 5

PROVIDING INSTRUCTIONAL SUPPORT

As explained in chapters 3 and 4, beginning teachers often need physical and emotional support to make it through their first few weeks and months in the classroom. However, as beginning teachers settle into their teaching roles, mentors must provide high-quality instructional support. Mentors should ensure that mentees use effective instructional strategies in the classroom, monitor their current level of skill with those strategies, and understand what they can do to improve their level of expertise.

Once a beginning teacher catches up on grading, lesson planning, and communicating with parents, she may begin to wonder whether all of her work has actually paid off. She finally has more time to spend on developing effective lesson plans, but she isn’t sure how to improve the processes she currently uses. When her lessons fail, she cannot pinpoint a reason why. Frequently, she asks herself questions such as, “Was that lesson poorly planned or just poorly executed? What does my principal expect of me? What can I reasonably expect from my students? Which strategies work? How do I know if students are learning?”

 

Chapter 6: Providing Institutional Support

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Chapter 6

PROVIDING INSTITUTIONAL SUPPORT

As beginning teachers complete their first few years of teaching, they typically gain confidence in their teaching abilities and burgeoning expertise. Often, this development of higher levels of expertise leads beginning teachers to wonder what opportunities for growth and development on a larger scale (perhaps as a teacher leader) are available. They might also explore opportunities to join content-specific organizations (such as the National Council of Teachers of English [NCTE] or the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics [NCTM]) or to become board certified. This could also include seeking leadership positions in extracurriculars, such as athletic teams or after-school clubs and activities.

As beginning teachers seek to expand their connections within the school, district, or education system, mentors can offer institutional support. This type of support helps a teacher find his or her place in the profession and may involve helping a beginning teacher learn more about school and district culture, explore the intricacies of the evaluation process, join local school and district initiatives, or become involved in various local, district, and national organizations. As a mentor, providing institutional support to a mentee who has begun to thrive can be extremely rewarding.

 

Appendix A: Answers to Comprehension Questions

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APPENDIX A

ANSWERS TO COMPREHENSION QUESTIONS

Answers to Chapter 2

Comprehension Questions

  1.  Which teachers should school or district leaders consider when selecting mentors?

School and district leaders have numerous factors to consider when selecting mentor teachers. First, select mentors who have achieved either master- or mentor-teacher status. Such educators will have already demonstrated effectiveness in their own teaching skills, particularly with regard to student achievement. Additionally, consider a number of additional guidelines when selecting mentors; for example, mentors should have a minimum of three to five years of teaching experience, teach in the same content areas or at the same grade level as the mentee, have a classroom or office in close proximity to the mentee’s classroom, and be older than the mentee. A mentor teacher should also possess a broad knowledge of curriculum and instruction, as well as the interpersonal skills necessary to interact with parents, colleagues, and students in a respectful and professional manner. Furthermore, an ideal mentor can describe and demonstrate effective teaching, agrees with the overall goals of mentoring, is familiar with the unique needs of a beginning teacher, understands the four types of new-teacher support, and engages in self-reflection and continuous improvement in his or her own role as a teacher. Schools and districts must decide which of these guidelines are most essential and relevant to their unique contexts and circumstances.

 

Appendix B: Reflections of A Beginning Teacher

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APPENDIX B

REFLECTIONS OF A BEGINNING TEACHER

Appendix B contains reflective personal essays I wrote during my own first years of teaching. These essays were originally published in In the First Few Years: Reflections of a Beginning Teacher (Humphrey, 2003). As stated in the preface of that book, I adored and appreciated the advice I received from my professors in the teacher education program at the University of Iowa. On my first day of teaching, however, I found myself feeling as though I was missing some crucial pieces of information. Where were the faculty restrooms? Should I pack a lunch or buy a lunch from the cafeteria? Most of all, I wanted someone to validate my struggles and frustrations so that I would not feel so alone and insecure in my skills.

In sharing these essays, I hope to offer an amalgam of advice from which beginning teachers can pick and choose, as well as reflections that prompt mentor teachers to reminisce, nod in agreement, and share stories from their own journeys with mentees. Indeed, something can be said for revisiting the anxieties of being a new teacher in the midst of the first year. Whenever I reread these essays, I immediately feel transported back to those first few years. It becomes easy to remember how I was feeling while I sorted through all of the challenges that define the beginning of a career in education. These conjure memories of a specific window in my life that I would not have recalled otherwise.

 

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