Student Well-Being

New Mentoring Program Found Helpful for Novice Teachers in N.Y.C.

By Bess Keller — May 09, 2006 3 min read
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Despite significant pitfalls, a new program for New York City’s rookie teachers shows promise for boosting their quality and helping stem the number who leave, a report has found.

Calling the program “possibly the largest, most aggressive overhaul of teacher induction in the country,” researchers at the New Teacher Center at the University of California, Santa Cruz, praised the 1.1 million-student district for spending $36 million to put experienced teachers on the job as full-time mentors, able to give new teachers at least 1¼ hours a week of individual coaching.

“Understanding New York City’s Groundbreaking Induction Initiative: Policy Implications for Local, State, and National Education Leaders” is posted by the New Teacher Center.

The New Teacher Center, which supports the development of models centered on mentors for new educator induction around the country, was a partner with the district and the United Federation of Teachers, the local union, in designing the program.

Part of the impetus was a 2004 policy change applying to all New York state districts, mandating that teachers with less than a year’s teaching experience receive mentoring.

Under the program launched in New York City in August 2004, handpicked veterans based at one of 11 regional offices were matched with roughly 17 new teachers each, by grade level and subject area where possible. In the start-up year, more than 300 mentors who were specially trained to focus their work on the elements of high-quality instruction regularly saw nearly 6,000 new teachers.

Lessons Learned

The report, which sought to draw lessons for policymakers from the program’s first year, found the basic model generally well suited to the nation’s largest school district.

Still, in surveys and discussions, the mentors raised concerns about the number of schools they had to travel to and be familiar with, their load of new teachers, and the lack of a second year of mentoring. The report urges the district to extend the mentoring to a second year.

Other rough spots can be traced, the report released last month concluded, to poor communication between the mentoring program and building administrators and limited collaboration between the mentors and others interested in the performance of first-year teachers, such as school-based literacy and mathematics coaches and universities trying to support their newly minted teachers.

The authors found a related need for greater consistency among all district efforts to improve teaching.

The paper also points to shortcomings in the data-collection systems needed to run the program well and evaluate it for future improvement.

And it says that a number of “systemic” issues impeded the goals of helping new teachers progress and persuading them to stay. Such problems included late teacher hiring and last-minute transfers endemic to many big-city districts; “new teacher hazing,” whereby rookies get the classes with the most disruptive students and duties no one else wants; assigning new teachers outside their areas of strength; and the lure of cushier jobs in the suburbs.

For long-term success, the report recommends sustained attention to political leaders’ support, teachers’ contract provisions, coordination of professional development for teachers, and data systems.

The human-resources chief for the district, Elizabeth Arons, said in an interview last week that some of the problems highlighted in the New Teacher Center paper have been corrected since the first year of the program.

While some new teachers were likely missed in the first year because of inadequate data, for example, she said, the system now tags them.

Other problems would probably be addressed by changing some of the ways mentoring is organized. Ms. Arons characterized the program overall as “amazingly successful” in terms of both new-teacher effectiveness and retention, though she cautioned that the data are still rough.

One comparison, for example, showed that new teachers who participated in the mentoring program were twice as likely to stay on their jobs for a second year as new teachers who did not participate.

With better-quality data, the program will be shown to have an even more powerful effect on retention, Ms. Arons believes.

A version of this article appeared in the May 10, 2006 edition of Education Week as New Mentoring Program Found Helpful for Novice Teachers in N.Y.C.

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