by Harry and Rosemary
New Teachers Are Taught
If you are a new teacher, the research overwhelmingly says that over 50 percent of you will not be teaching after 3 to 5 years. Seventeen percent of you will not even last one year. Your talents and life are much too valuable to see one to five years of your life being wasted as well as the education you pursued useless. Find a district with an induction program that sends a message to you that they care about you, that they value you, and that they want you to succeed and stay.
Imagine your success as a teacher if before your very first day in a school, you had the skill, background, and knowledge to develop the following checklist for your classroom:
Start of School Checklist
|___ ||Classroom routines and procedures have been developed.|
|___ ||Routines and procedures have been taught and reinforced. |
|___ ||Routines and procedures are posted neatly and are large enough to be read.|
|___ ||Rules and consequences are posted. |
|___ ||Heading sample is displayed.|
|___ ||Professional diploma/s, etc. are displayed.|
|___ ||Homework assignments with due dates are posted in the same place every day.|
|___ ||Student schedule is posted.|
|___ ||A signal to quiet class has been taught and is used as needed.|
|___ ||Warm-ups (or "bellwork") are used to start instruction.|
|___ ||Relevant sponge activities are used to maximize instructional time.|
|___ ||Classroom is arranged to promote/facilitate educational activities.|
|___ ||Classroom environment conveys the message that learning is important.|
|___ ||"Sunshine" or positive calls were made and/or notes sent home.
List courtesy of the Port Huron, Michigan New Teacher Induction Program
Many schools and districts have new teacher induction programs, such as the one found in the El Reno, Oklahoma School District. If you will refer back to our June 2000 column, you will note the success of Melissa Pantoja, who was taught how to script her first day of school by the El Reno New Teacher Induction Program.
When a New Teacher Is Hired
You probably are wondering why we are talking again about the beginning of school in March. The middle of March is the deadline for many teachers to declare their intent to return to their assignments. District offices will then plan on how many new teachers they'll need for the upcoming year.
So if you are not happy with the support and training you are receiving from your school, why are you staying? There are thousands of jobs waiting for teachers. You do have a choice in where you want to grow as a professional educator.
Whether you are a novice or veteran teacher, if you are newly hired in a district, three things may or may not have happened to you. Look at the three options and see where you fit.
- You Were Given an Assignment.
You were simply given an assignment and told to go and teach. There was no person or plan to help you if you needed help.
If you are a new teacher, the research overwhelmingly says that over 50 percent of you will not be teaching after 3 to 5 years. Seventeen percent of you will not even last one year. Your talents and life are much too valuable to see one to five years of your life being wasted as well as the education you pursued useless.
- You Were Given a Mentor.
You were simply given a mentor to contact if you needed help. With luck, this person may have been trained, compensated, accessible, knowledgeable, and willing to help. As a beginning teacher you were at the mercy of the mentor's philosophy, schedule, competence, and training.
There is no uniform mission with individual mentors. Twenty new teachers plus 20 different mentors equals 20 people teaching in 20 different ways, which means that some of you will succeed and some of you will fail. Next month's column will address this issue.
- The District Provided an Induction Program.
You were part of a systematic, integrated plan formulated by the district's core of administrators, teachers, and perhaps the union, designed to welcome you, make you feel a part of the school or the district, and assigned a trained mentor.
The purpose of this multi-year process is to help you become a successful, effective, and professional educator who will stay with the school or district. Induction programs have been shown to be very successful in training and retaining effective teachers.
Helga Left as Abruptly as She Came
From the three options, which one best describes your introduction to teaching? For most teachers -- yes, most -- you are given an assignment and told to go and teach. This is as ludicrous as an airline that hires a pilot and the pilot is told to go and fly.
For Helga, who was called into service the week school began, the introduction to her school was abrupt. No one noticed her when she entered the office, nor offered to assist her. When she asked to speak to the principal, the secretary spoke sharply to her. She relates, "After a few minutes, Mr. Smith [the Principal], whom I'd met on one other occasion when I came to see the school, came flying out of his office like a whirlwind. The scene that followed was almost comical. Everyone was vying for his attention. Children were calling to him to tell of the wrongs they'd suffered at the hands of some 'unjust' teacher, teachers were questioning or complaining about scheduling of children or even what time the assembly was going off on Friday. The secretary was trying to relay phone messages, while another secretary was traipsing along behind him trying to remind him of the combination to get into the safe, all the while Mr. Smith barked out instructions on things the secretaries needed to do so he could get certain things accomplished that day. Chaos."
Helga called to Mr. Smith by name but it was obvious that he did not know who she was. After explaining herself, the principal introduced her to the secretaries, gave her the key to her room, and wished her luck.
She experienced instant immersion into her teaching assignment, with no orientation to the school, the students, or the community. She continues, "I walked to the other building in a daze. Wasn't somebody going to walk over with me and tell me a little bit about what to expect? Wasn't anyone going to show me where the bathroom was or tell me what the other teachers do for lunch? Wasn't I going to get a few words of encouragement or for heaven's sake, an idea what time the first period started? I felt very alone. I kept mentally patting myself on the back for having come the week before so I'd know where my room was."
"I started to really understand that I was totally on my own. I started using my lunches and prep periods to walk around to the other teachers and get acquainted and find out where to get materials and who I needed to 'get in good with.' One day during my second week, a man by the name of [...] came down and introduced himself as my new mentor. He told me to come see him if I had any questions. That was of some comfort but a little too open-ended. The seeming lack of structure made me uncomfortable."
Part of Helga's problem was caused by starting so abruptly with no induction process. Within a few weeks, Helga was beginning to feel overwhelmed. "I am feeling so overwhelmed, I have no time. I cannot get everything done. I still have no reading books. Getting by is what I feel like I have been doing. If I can stay one day ahead, I feel prepared. There was no time for me to get into my classroom before the kids were already there."
"It is like realizing you are asleep and having a nightmare, knowing that you can stop the dream or wake up, and yet you continue on with the horror because this is a teaching job. This is what you've supposedly been trained for. You ask yourself -- why am I not happy? It wounds deeply when you step into a job that is supposed to be rewarding and fulfilling, and it turns out to be a nightmare filled with horror and despair."
The experience began taking its toll on Helga. She lost weight, she began having nightmares, she had difficulty sleeping, and her mental health was in jeopardy. She felt a sense of isolation from the other teachers. Helga felt as though she failed. After three months, Helga left as abruptly as she came.
Many of the points in Helga's story may strike a cord with the experiences you may have encountered just a few months ago. Surprisingly, this story actually happened and was reported in Action in Teacher Education, "Entering teaching through the back door: two alternative route teachers speak," written by Joan S. Schmidt, Seanne Johnson, and Jeffrey Schultz, Fall 1993.
Does Your District Want Its New Teachers to Succeed?
Helga could have been helped had her district had a program to induct teachers into the profession. The new teacher induction in Port Huron, Michigan, just a stone's throw from the Canadian border, began in the fall of 1991. The local superintendent for this district of 12,000 foresaw that a great many older teachers in his district would be retiring within five years and the district would be forced to fill those vacancies with new, inexperienced teachers.
Enter Cathy Lozen, a veteran classroom teacher who had just made the move into administration. One of her first assignments was the challenge of developing a program to help the anticipated new teachers in Port Huron. The induction program in Port Huron can trace its roots to Tucson, Arizona, where Cathy Lozen traveled to study the Flowing Wells' induction model. Information on this program can be found by going to http://teachers.net/gazette/JAN01/induction.html.
Her visit to the Southwest would solidify her purpose. "I loved the spirit, the buy-in from the staff, the climate that was there in Flowing Wells," Cathy remembers. "Everybody in town was aware of the program. Everybody believed in it, and they participated to one degree or another. That was what I tried to create when I came back here."
Upon her return to Michigan, Cathy reviewed the research on new teacher induction, and then reflected on her own experiences as a classroom teacher. "It was almost like walking in my shoes again, looking back at my classroom career, thinking what I might have wanted to happen differently. And that was how I planned the program," she says.
"One of the problems with staff development is that it has always been hit-and-run, a one-shot deal that's supposed to fix everything. We know that is not effective," Cathy continues. "We wanted it to be a sustained program. We felt we needed to keep new teachers close to us for a year, nurture them and take them step-by-step through the year. Then, they'd have a real solid foundation about the district, about teaching, about our expectations."
Imagine being a part of a school district with this philosophy. Their actions back their philosophy. They have a four-day orientation with the following components:
- New teachers enjoy a welcome breakfast with balloons, flowers and gifts. The agenda is mostly a get-acquainted day with key staff members.
- A resource notebook is provided for each teacher.
- The district hosts a bus tour for the new teachers with a stop at one of the middle schools and tours of three demonstration classrooms.
- The teachers receive The First Days of School and instruction on classroom management and the importance of classroom procedures, rules, and routines.
- Trainers continue the instruction and then lead a "hot topics" discussion of some issues the teachers might encounter in the local schools.
- New teachers visit demonstration classrooms, with selected teachers on the grade level and subject areas sharing their reasoning for certain classroom arrangements.
The four-day training is brought to a close with a discussion of professionalism, professional dress, making a good impression, and the importance of calling parents with positive news. The teachers are awarded a certificate, a mug, and a "teacher start-up kit" in a tote bag filled with bulletin board borders, letters, a chalk holder, notepads with an apple design, and posters onto which classroom procedures may be written. "The seminar ends with an emotional 'pep talk' which really makes you proud of who you are and what career you've chosen," Cathy reports.
Port Huron's training and nurturing does not stop after the four days prior to the start of school. Follow-ups to the induction week take the form of "special topic seminars" on the fourth Tuesday of each month (except December). Such topics as the home-and-school connection, preparing teachers for conference days, how staffing for the following year is done, and cooperative learning are explored.
"The content depends on the group," Cathy explains. "It's about laying the general foundation for meeting the needs of all their students. We're kind of a 'no-excuses' district; the job of the teacher is to help all students succeed. Our subtle program for the whole year is to take a slice of the population and address how to help kids with different needs -- attention difficulties, the gifted and talented, various groups."
During the year the teachers have the help of a "support teacher," someone who has volunteered to serve as a support for the new teacher but has had no formal mentor training.
A beneficial aspect of the Port Huron program is that it was developed in conjunction with the Port Huron Education Association, the area teachers' union. According to Mary Ecker, a member of the executive board of the Port Huron Education Association, "New teachers are not the only beneficiaries of induction programs. The involvement of the education association with the administration positively impacts, students, colleagues, and administrators. We model teamwork as a way of achieving mutually desired goals."
Cathy adds, "It's a good relationship. Mary and I have become fast friends. We get feedback from a variety of sources. We tell the new teachers we're going to take their pulse all the time, that we need them to be honest with us. And the feedback we get has been very positive."
At the end of the four-day, preschool workshop, Cathy returned to her office to find flowers from all the participants and a card thanking those responsible for the workshop and a note that said, "We now feel welcome and a part of the Port Huron family." Cathy Lozen says, "We had become a cohesive and caring group in four days. We all bonded and our district is truly better for it. What a feeling!"
There is no Helga, teaching in isolation, unsupported, in Port Huron.
In fact, the years invested in an induction program have reaped unforeseen benefits.
After seven years, there are more induction-bred teachers in our system and you can see it by the change in our culture.
William Kimball, Superintendent
Port Huron Area Schools
You want to teach in a district that will grow you into the passionate teacher you were meant to be.
So how do you identify a district with an induction program? Ask! And make sure it is a structured induction program and not just a day of orientation or you're just given a mentor or buddy. An induction program is designed to train, support, and retain you. Do not be so foolish as to believe that you can succeed on your own. An induction program is a district's message to you that they care about you, that they value you, and that they want you to succeed and stay.
The following will help you recognize a true induction program.
What Is Induction?
A structured training program that must begin before the first day of school. Its purpose is to
- provide instruction in classroom and teacher effectiveness,
- reduce the intensity of transition into teaching, and
- increase the retention of greater numbers of highly qualified teachers.
Effective teachers can be trained, and once trained, the effective administrator retains them and builds a culture for a school. For this to happen, an induction process must have three components:
Through a series of workshops, demonstration classrooms, visitations, and debriefing sessions, new teachers are taught and shown effective classroom strategies.
A cadre of mentors, administrators, and staff developers work personally and in regularly scheduled sessions to support and assist the new teacher.
Teachers, especially effective teachers, will be increasingly harder to find. The effective administrator retains these effective teachers and creates a culture of an effective school.
The Structure of an Effective Induction Program
- An initial four or five days of workshops and classes before school begins.
- A continuum of professional development through systematic training over a period of two or three years.
- A strong sense of administrative support.
- A mentoring component to the induction process.
- A structure for modeling effective teaching during in-services and mentoring.
- Opportunities for inductees to visit demonstration classrooms.
Start Planning for the Next School Year
If you are a brand-new teacher looking for your first teaching position be vigilant in your efforts to find a school system with an induction program that will train you, value you, and want to keep you.
If you are struggling as a new teacher, like Helga, and find yourself with no support start looking for another school that will value you as a professional and not as a warm body monitoring students.
If you are a staff developer or central office administrator start to organize your new teacher induction program now. This is the only way to train and retain a cadre of qualified teachers who radiate the confidence and effectiveness needed to tackle the demands of today's classrooms.
The Governor's Award for Excellence in Education was given to the Gaston County, (North Carolina) Schools for their New Teacher Induction Program. They produced a short video which succinctly explains their program goals, mission, and a day-by-day description of their program. This video is available for people who want to start an induction program.
Included with this video is a booklet with copies of the daily schedule from three successful induction programs, research on the validity of induction programs, listings of induction programs from around the country that are willing to share with you and help you, and a page of websites for new teacher support. Access our website http://www.effectiveteaching.com and go to the items we have to help teachers become more effective. You'll see "Gaston County New Teacher Induction Program" in the list.
We are committed to helping teachers become the best they can be. A recently released poll conducted by Public Agenda reported that beginning teachers feel they lack the preparation, not in content, but in the training needed to manage a classroom, bringing classes alive, and making sure their students actually learn. Most beginning teachers said when they first entered the classroom they were often at a loss.
As a teacher you can be surrounded by anywhere from 8 to 80 students at a time, a faculty of 1 to 100 - and, yet, feel so alone. Find a school system that will support you and help you realize your full potential in affecting the lives of young people.
And if by chance you should be looking elsewhere for employment next school year because your current school lacks an induction program, help your colleagues and those who may come after you, by letting the administration know why you are leaving and what they can do to attract and retain those with a passion for children.
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