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This article was printed from Teachers.Net Gazette,
located at https://teachers.net.
Achievement Is Very Simple (Part 1)
The concept of school is very simple. Teachers
teach and students learn. Improve the teacher and you improve the student.
Ask any CEO of a private company what is the greatest asset of
their company and they will tell you – their people.
When school administrators were asked,
what is the greatest asset in your schools?
1. Most administrators answered: money or finances
2. Others answered, their programs
3. A few said, the children or the students
Almost no one answered that their greatest asset is their teachers.
Yet, we all know that teacher quality is the most critical factor
by which to improve student achievement or close the achievement gap.
Teacher. It is the teacher, what the teacher
knows and can do, that is the most important factor in improving student
Instruction. It is how the teacher instructs,
not the program, the size of the school or classroom, or the demographics
of the students that determines student learning.
Rather than invest in the comprehensive training of teachers, many school
districts invest in programs and structural changes.
Administrators. The school year may be coming to a close,
but it’s not too late to start planning for the next school year.
What are you planning to do this summer: buy another curriculum program,
shuffle the school size, and reorganize job descriptions?
And when you review next year’s results, will student learning
be lacking again? We know why!
Unsuccessful schools stress programs. They
spend millions of dollars adopting programs, fads of the year, in constant
pursuit of the quick fix on the white horse.
Successful schools stress practices. They wisely
invest in their teachers and administrators and their effectiveness.
They don’t teach programs; they teach basic, traditional academic
content - and they work at improving the instructional practices of
So, stop spending millions of dollars adopting programs, philosophies,
Student achievement has nothing to do with programs and class or school
It’s the teacher – what the teacher
knows and what the teacher does in the classroom -- that results in
That’s right. Improving student achievement is very simple.
It’s the teacher and how the teacher instructs.
When teacher instruction is effective, you will see improved
student learning. In fact, the most effective teachers produce as
much as six times the learning gains as the least effective teachers.
New Teachers Need More than a Mentor
Here’s some surprising news, but after some reflection it does
A new teacher lowers achievement growth by 0.12-0.16
Hanushek, Kain, O’Brien, & Rivkin (2005)
This is not a statement that is disrespectful of new teachers.
It’s just a fact of life that raw rookies need training and help
to become effective. New baseball players are not inserted into
a major league lineup right after they sign a contract. Every single
one of them is sent to a minor league farm club to learn and hone their
New employees in a law firm, a restaurant, or a hardware store all start
“from the bottom up” learning all the skills of the profession
and the practices of the company. In fact, new employees all want
to learn how they can fit into the company and how they can add value
to the company.
In theory, this is reasonable but it does not apply to teaching, because
new teachers are expected to take over a class on the first day of school
as all the other teachers do, and
they are expected to perform to the same degree
of proficiency as all the veteran teachers.
We know this, and it is an important but terrifying experience, but when
school starts again in about three months, many new teachers will be,
figuratively and literally, dumped into a classroom and told to go and
teach. Many of the new teachers who are hired are not even shown
to their classrooms or formally introduced to the staff. The
very person who is the most important factor influencing student achievement
begins in isolation and continues the year in isolation.
Oh, but we give the new teacher a mentor, say many administrators.
As this article is being written, baseball season is in full
progress. Bill Carpenter, a recently retired Connecticut
elementary school principal, shares that when he graduated from high school
he was invited by the then Brooklyn Dodgers to their spring training camp
in Florida. At training camp, he recalls, the camp was crawling
with coaches. They had coaches for pitching, batting, catching,
base running, outfield play, infield play, sliding, base stealing, taking
signals, and warming up drills, just to name a few.
There is no debating that one of baseball’s most valued skills
is batting, especially if you note the salaries of those who can do it
well. However, at a spring training camp, they do not have every
player participate exclusively in batting practice.
Yet, that is exactly what many schools and school districts do, and several
states have mandated that a new teacher is given a mentor. There
is no question that a mentor is very important to the success of a new
teacher, just as good batting is important to a baseball team’s
success. But, mentoring alone does not produce effective
All baseball teams have a comprehensive, organized spring training program
that continues during the playing season and even during the off-season
for those who want to continue their training. They devote their
time to all the components needed for a baseball team to succeed.
It’s the same with schools:
Some schools do nothing for their new teachers.
Others just give the new teacher a mentor, and
Others provide a comprehensive, coherent, and sustained professional
The research supports the latter as most successful.
Thomas Smith and Richard Ingersoll have determined the percentage turnover
of first year teachers. Very simply
41 percent of beginning teachers will leave after one year if they
receive no induction training
27 percent of beginning teachers will leave after one year if they
receive four components of induction training, and
18 percent of beginning teachers will leave after one year if they
receive seven components of induction training.
In other words, if all a new teacher receives is a mentor, the
new teacher has nearly a 40 percent chance of not making it through one
year of teaching.
That’s a tragic loss of human capital! And the loss is not
due to incompetence on the part of the teacher. It’s due to
the school or the district doing nothing to train and support a new teacher.
Components of a Comprehensive Induction Program
It takes four to six years to develop an effective teacher.
Knowing this, effective induction programs are:
Comprehensive: The components include many activities
and people. Coherent: The activities and people have an organized
purpose. Sustained: The program continues for many years,
striving to develop effective teachers.
The components of an induction program could include the following:
Begin with an initial four or five days of training (in classroom
management and effective teaching techniques) before school begins.
Offer a continuum of professional development through systematic training
over a period of two or three years.
Provide study groups where new teachers can network and build support,
commitment, and leadership in a learning community.
Incorporate a strong sense of administrative support.
Integrate a mentoring component into the induction process.
Present a structure for modeling effective teaching during in-services
Provide opportunities for inductees to visit demonstration classrooms.
Good induction programs are very structured
and have a perfect blend of caring, accompanied with a lot of supervision.
Mentoring Is Not Induction
The terms “induction” and “mentoring”
are often incorrectly used interchangeably to describe what happens to
a new teacher. It must be clarified that induction and mentoring
are not the same.
Induction is an organized, sustained, multiyear program structured by
a school or district, of which mentoring may be an integral component.
Induction is a group process, one that organizes the expertise of educators
within the shared values of a culture. Mentoring is a one-on-one
process, concerned with simply supporting individual teachers, but mentoring
is not a sustained process.
Most mentoring is done to help new teachers
survive, not to thrive.
We must stop trying to portray mentoring as the effective stand-alone
method for supporting and retaining teachers. Mentors are important,
but they are an isolated episode for one year or less in a new teacher’s
life. To be effective, mentors need to be a component of the induction
The Difference between Mentoring and Induction
Focuses on survival
Promotes career learning and professional development
Relies on a single mentor or shares a mentor with other teachers
Provides multiple support people and administrative
Treats mentoring as an isolated event
part of a lifelong professional
Limited resources spent
Investment in an extensive,
comprehensive, and sustained induction program
Reacts to whatever arises
Acculturates a vision and aligns content to academic standards
Short-term, perhaps a year
Long-term, recurrent, sustained
In many school districts,
Mentoring is carried out one-on-one, in isolation, with no coherence
to any district/school curriculum, plan, goals, or standards, nor is
there any evaluation or rigorous monitoring of the process, whereas
Good induction programs are comprehensive, last several years, have
clearly articulated goals, provide a structured and nurturing system
of professional development and support, and are rigorously monitored
Mentoring can’t do it all.
It should be obvious that adequate help cannot be done by another teacher
with a full-time load who drops by when time permits or when a problem
arises. Mentors may show up after school begins and may not have
been trained, compensated, or given direction or goals to attain.
Many mentors do not consult with other mentors and may never even visit
the mentee’s classroom.
We need more than mentors
to develop effective new teachers.
Mentoring is Not the Issue
The concept of mentoring began in 1980. You know
that year as the birth of the personal computer, most notably the IBM
PC with 16 kilobytes of memory. It’s 25 years later and we
shake our heads at the thought of 16 kilobytes (KB), because today’s
computers commonly come with 1 gigabytes of memory, which in round figures
is one kilobyte times 1000 times another 1000 equals one gigabyte of memory.
In 1996, Sharon Feiman-Nemser wrote an ERIC report on her critical study
of mentoring programs and said that few studies exist that show the context,
content, and consequences of mentoring. And in 2004, Ingersoll and
Kralik stated that the current research did not provide definitive evidence
of the value of mentoring programs in keeping new teachers from leaving
These researchers are politely saying that there is no research
to support mentoring as an effective process to use to train and produce
effective teachers that will result in student learning.
It is now 25 years later since mentoring came on the scene and some people
are still trying to sell it like someone would try to sell an original
IBM PC today.
And when you ask these good people how the mentoring process is done,
they will tell you that the mentor and the mentee get together when the
mentee needs help and they “reflect.” Yes, they “reflect.”
The mentor may not have been trained, may not teach at the same grade
level or academic subject and the mentoring relationship probably has
no coherence or collaboration to any state/district/school
curriculum, plan, goals, or standards. Also, the relationship
lacks any structure, is not monitored, and has no adequate follow-up procedure.
This should explain why we lose talented new teachers every
Despite what has been said, the issue is not mentoring.
The issue is when mentoring is used as an isolated event. Mentoring
can be successful if mentors are a component part of a comprehensive induction
It must be understood that mentoring is only one component of a successful
induction program. Without all of the components in place, mentoring
by itself will be of little benefit to new teachers.
This is why such districts as
Prince Georges County in Maryland provides 35 hours of training for
each mentor, and Forsyth County in Georgia provides 100 hours of training
for each mentor.
One purpose of this training is to align the mentoring process
with district goals that have as its main focus student learning.
Susan Moore Johnson of the Project on the Next Generation of Teachers
at the Harvard Graduate School of Education says, “Mentoring is
all the rage. There is some sort of deep hope on the part of everyone
that if you get the right mentor, your life will be saved and you will
be the teacher you remember. But the truth is that mentoring pairs
seldom are anything but haphazard. They are driven by the schedule.
They are often not pairs of people who really know the subjects that the
individual is teaching.”
Can you imagine a baseball team that does not have spring training?
Rather, they assign every new player a mentor and the new player is told
to contact their mentor if they need help. To make matters worse,
the mentor may not even play the same position, which is what is often
done to new teachers. That is, new teachers don’t get help
from someone in their field; they get someone from “left field.”
In the sports world and the private sector, people are trained continually.
The goal is to achieve success. For those who achieve exceptional
success, they are inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, the Marines,
and a law firm.
You are not mentored into the Hall of Fame, the Marines, or a law firm.
The concept of induction is used in every profession except education.
Doctors, lawyers, engineers, and other professionals must all prove their
abilities BEFORE they are allowed to practice their professions independently.
They are not placed in professional settings and told to rely on their
mentors, which is what is commonly done in education.
For More information on Induction
New teachers learn best from systematic induction
The aforementioned Susan Moore Johnson at Harvard says, “Our work
suggests that schools would do better to rely less on one-to-one mentoring
and, instead, develop schoolwide structures that promote integrated professional
cultures with frequent exchange of information and ideas across experience
And John Saphier, writing in Beyond Mentoring
says, “We need to provide a comprehensive induction program that
involves more than just mentors. Mentors alone, though a critical
part of good induction, cannot hope by themselves to provide the range
of input, feedback, and support beginning teachers need. Well-designed
induction programs include specific roles for principals, superintendents,
central office personnel, the teachers’ union, parents, school board,
and particularly the other staff members where the beginning teacher works.”