State Mentoring Programs are Key for Beginning Teachers

Research Supports Results: High Quality Mentoring Improves Skills, Cuts Turnover 
By Jordan Koch

In 2016–17, I embarked on my first year of teaching. I was assigned a mentor, also a teacher, who received neither leave from the classroom for one-on-one coaching, nor formal training in the role, nor a rigorous screening process.

Luckily, I was also selected into a university program that paired me with a different sort of mentor. A past educator with mentor training under her belt, she devoted five hours a week to provide me with new teaching and management strategies, helping with lesson plans, and teaching my class while I observed other master teachers, among other things. Not only did she help me grow professionally, she provided support during stressful, emotionally difficult times. My mentor made me a better teacher and servant of children. 

Feeling Isolated

Needless to say, I believe strong mentors and mentoring policies are vital for new teachers, especially because there are so many of us. In 1987–88, the typical teacher had 15 years of experience; by 2007–08 the typical teacher was in their first year, whether straight from college or after a career switch.1 One-third of teachers leave the profession within the first five years.2 In states without strong mentoring policies, new teachers’ feelings of isolation may contribute to high turnover rates. Teachers make, on average, four instructional decisions every minute, or around 1,300 decisions per day.3 Beginning teachers — those who have been in the profession for less than three years — may be overwhelmed by the demands of the classroom without proper support and guidance from experienced, highly qualified teacher mentors.

Dedicated Funding Saves Money

Here are research-based recommendations for supporting high-quality mentoring programs for beginning teachers: 

  • Districts need clear formal mentoring program standards to guide effective mentoring programs and to help frame the purpose for mentoring.
  • State policies and district standards should allocate dedicated time for beginning teachers and their mentors to meet. According to a National Center for Education Statistics report, only 36 percent of new teachers who met with their mentors a “few times per year” reported that it improved their instruction. When mentors and mentees met weekly, that figure increased to 88 percent.4 
  • The selection of quality mentors may be one of the most important factors, as poorly qualified mentors are unlikely to improve a beginning teacher’s skills.
  • Dedicated state funding for formal mentoring is another characteristic of a strong mentoring policy. Every year, teacher turnover costs U.S. school districts an estimated $1 to $2.2 billion.5 Out of a sample of 1,990 first-year teachers included in a National Center for Education Statistics study, 86 percent of teachers who had been assigned mentors were still teaching after five years compared with 71 percent who did not have mentors.6 
  • States that have mentoring policies in place should assess whether retention of new teachers has improved.

Students Also Benefit

Strong formal mentoring policies not only help states and districts retain and develop teachers, they also help students. Students who had teachers that received three years of formal mentoring saw significant achievement gains, according to the U.S. Department of Education. The average student moved from the 50th percentile up 4 percentile points in reading and 8 points in math.

Nebraska does not currently have a state-funded mentoring program, and this is affecting new teachers and teacher retention in the state. Many small, rural districts are unable to provide high-quality mentoring programs that match a beginning teacher with a teacher in their content area. State funds once used for Rule 26, the statutory Mentor Teacher Program, have been reallocated within the state budget, thus causing mentoring programs in many districts to be put aside.  

Reallocate Resources

NSEA received a three-year grant from the National Education Association to fund a virtual mentoring program. However, these funds cannot support or sustain an entire state-wide program. Knowing that mentoring is a research-based support for the success of new teachers, mentoring should be a state-funded initiative so that passionate young educators stay in the profession and are successful.
All new educators should be as fortunate as I am to have a strong mentor. This coming legislative session, I hope to advocate for our Nebraska legislative and state board representatives to update Rule 26 and to reallocate resources to fully fund the Nebraska Mentoring Program.  Please join me and NSEA in this effort to advocate for the success and retention of new teachers in our state. Join the NSEA cyberlobbying team and sign up for the NSEA Legislative Updates by contacting NSEA’s Cathy Schapmann at 1-800-742-0047, or at: cathy.schapmann@nsea.org

If you’d like more information regarding the NSEA mentoring program, please contact Dr. Cindy Copich, Teaching and Learning Specialist at 402-875-2123, or: cindy.copich@nsea.org 

This article was revised from State Mentoring Policies Key to Supporting Novice Teachers published as a National Association of State Boards of Education policy update in June 2018.  Jordan Koch is a 6th grade teacher at Bell Elementary in the Papillion-LaVista Public School District. She is a member of New Generation of Educators in Nebraska (NGEN) an NSEA-sponsored group to support the success of new teachers. NGEN believes in the power of uniting and supporting early career educators in their first seven years of teaching through Association membership and engagement.

NOTES

  1. Richard Ingersoll, “Seven Trends: The Transformation of the Teaching Force” (Philadelphia: Consortium for Policy Research in Education, 2014).
  2. Jimmy Shaw and Jodi Newton,  “Teacher Retention and Satisfaction with a Servant Leader as Principal,” Education 135, no. 1 (fall 2014): 101–06.
  3. Philip W. Jackson, Life in Classrooms (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1968).
  4. Laurie Lewis et al., “Teacher Quality: A Report on the Preparation and Qualifications of Public School Teachers,” NCES 1999-080 (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 1999), table 18.
  5. Richard Ingersoll, University of Pennsylvania, analysis of data from the 2007–08 Schools Statistics and Staffing Survey (SASS) and its supplement, the 2008–09 Teacher Follow-up Survey (TFS), cited in Alliance for Excellent Education, “On the Path to Equity: Improving the Effectiveness of Beginning Teachers” (Washington, DC, July 2014).
  6. Lucinda Gray and Soheyla Taie, “Public School Teacher Attrition and Mobility in the First Five Years: Results from the First through Fifth Waves of the 2007–08 Beginning Teacher Longitudinal Study,” NCES 2015-337 (Washington, D.C.: National Center for Education Statistics, 2015).
  7. Glazerman et al., “Comprehensive Teacher Induction.”