Teacher Preparation

How Can We Get More Highly Effective Teachers to Serve as Mentors?

By Madeline Will — May 29, 2019 3 min read
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Relatively few highly effective teachers take on roles as mentors to student-teachers, researchers say.

One solution? Pay them more—a lot more.

Dan Goldhaber, the director of the Center for Education Data and Research at the University of Washington, and his co-authors examined data on student-teaching placements from 15 teacher-preparation programs in Washington state. Graduates from those programs comprise 92 percent of the new teachers in the western half of the state, so the researchers’ analysis focused on school districts in that region.

The researchers found that more than 40 percent of math teachers within 50 miles of a teacher-prep program who do not host a student-teacher are more effective than the average math teacher who does serve as a mentor.

They also found that there are two to four times as many effective teachers than are currently being used as mentors. (In this analysis, teacher effectiveness is measured by value-added scores, or how much a teacher has contributed to student learning.)

Why aren’t more effective teachers serving as mentors to student-teachers? Goldhaber said the Spokane school district conducted a survey of potential mentor teachers, and found four common refrains:

  • It’s a lot of work. While some mentor teachers might view the role as getting “an extra set of hands and a little bit of a break,” Goldhaber said those who are doing the job well have to take on a lot of extra responsibilities.
  • Mentor teachers receive “shockingly little compensation,” he said. According to a 2016 study, the average mentor teacher receives around $200.
  • Some teachers have had bad experiences mentoring in the past, and are reluctant to sign up again.
  • There’s a concern among some potential mentor teachers that having a student-teacher in the classroom would harm student achievement. But Goldhaber said his research indicates that this is not the case.

The teachers who were interested in being a mentor teacher, he said, were interested in giving back to the profession. And indeed, studies have found that teacher candidates who are supervised by a more effective mentor teacher during student teaching tend to be more effective when they enter the profession.

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So how can district leaders recruit highly effective teachers to act as mentors? Goldhaber suggests paying them more—15 times more.

Past research out of Washington state has shown that the average teacher who is mentored by a highly effective teacher begins their career with the same effectiveness as an average third-year teacher. In Washington, the average third-year teacher is paid $3,500 more than the average rookie.

Given that the salary differential is a reflection of the value that policymakers put on experience, Goldhaber argues that policymakers should be willing to invest roughly 15 times more to encourage effective teachers to become mentors. He pointed to past research that suggests the value to students of having a first-year teacher who student-taught under a highly effective mentor teacher is about $70,000 in lifetime earnings across an average classroom, compared to students whose new teacher was trained under an average mentor teacher.

“That’s worth a whole heck of a lot more than $200,” Goldhaber said.

Those in the teacher-preparation field have called for student-teaching to be revamped and to better incorporate evidence-based practices. Kate Walsh, the president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, a Washington-based research and advocacy group, has said districts need to commit to placing student-teachers only with strong mentor teachers, and consider the chemistry between a mentor and his or her mentee.

Of course, being a highly effective teacher does not equate directly to being an effective mentor—some teachers might be good at mentoring, and not have as big an effect on student achievement, or vice versa.

“That said, there appears to be a really strong association between the two, and we should take a look at that,” Goldhaber said.

Image via Getty

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.