As a shortage of teachers grows toward crisis proportions, the nation’s schools are struggling against twin burdens to hire well-prepared new teachers and to keep them from leaving the profession. Many schools, particularly those in urban areas, have turned to formal programs of training and support for novice teachers as a way of easing what for many is a make-or-break first year, according to a new study. The study contends that the scope and quality of these induction programs has taken on unprecedented significance in the face of the nationwide demand for teachers.

The attrition rate among new teachers stokes schools’ hiring needs. Nationally, more than 19 percent of new teachers leave the classroom within three years. Nearly 11 percent leave in the first year of teaching alone. This is part of the reason for the projected need for 198,000 new teachers a year over the next decade, with demand highest in urban districts.

The school districts responding to a new survey reported an average 89 percent retention rate for teachers participating in their induction programs. The data show unequivocally the importance of induction programs in helping to reduce high teacher turnover and in bridging the gap between teacher preparation and the reality of the classroom.

Although more new teachers are receiving support, orientation, and formal training in their crucial first year in the classroom, how their induction experience is defined varies widely, according to the study. Despite wider acceptance of the idea of formal induction, the quality and scope of the programs range “from comprehensive to cursory.”

The study found, for example, that mentoring by veteran teachers is one of the most common activities cited by school districts as part of their induction programs. But the roles, responsibilities, training, and deployment of mentors vary enormously across different school systems. In addition, not all districts offer release time, stipends, graduate credits, tuition, or other incentives to mentors. While 88 percent of school districts described their programs as “formal, in-depth and sustained,” more than a quarter of them said their programs did not serve all new teachers.

In education, teachers who make the transition from novice to seasoned professional often do so by navigating solo through uncharted waters. What new teachers experience is in stark contrast to the experiences of medical residents, law associates, and even rookie basketball players, who are required to go through extended training, development, and mentoring during their respective induction periods. Few areas of the professional development continuum are as important as the induction years.

Nationally, more than 49 percent of first-year public school teachers participate in some type of induction program, while the participation rate rises to 58 percent for new teachers hired to work in urban schools.

The study found that induction programs improve new teachers’ knowledge, skills and performance, provide personal support, introduce new teachers to school system norms and procedures, and familiarize them with school system values. While states have grown more active in pushing for teacher quality, school districts have taken the lead in establishing and coordinating induction programs, with or without state funding. The study found that 79 percent of the programs were managed by school district personnel, typically without higher education (or other) partners.

Among the recommendations to federal, state and local policymakers and school leaders to consider as they develop policies and strategies to meet the needs of novice teachers:

– View induction as a multiyear, developmental process. Inductees have different needs as they pass through stages of their professional development, ranging from basic survival to teacher leadership.

– Train principals so that they understand how to orient and support inductees. Principals need training in effective ways to create supportive working conditions, develop mentoring and informal support relationships, assign classrooms, and recognize and address inductees’ professional needs.

– Establish a first-class mentoring program backed up by enough funding to serve all eligible inductees. A formal process should be set up to identify and train highly competent classroom teachers to work with and mentor inductees on a regular basis. Mentors should be given release time to observe, coach, and demonstrate lessons, and to attend meetings. They should be offered stipends to cover their time and materials, assistance from district coordinators, and annual evaluations.

– Link new teacher evaluations to district- and state-level standards. Inductee performance assessments should be both formative (for improvement) and summative (for decisions about employment status).

– Invest in technology to facilitate communication among teachers. Electronic mail, online forums, and bulletin boards are easy and inexpensive ways for inductees to share ideas, concerns, and encouragement, and communicate with mentors, program directors, and university faculty.

– Evaluate induction’s effectiveness in resolving attrition and building teacher competence. Effective programs require regular evaluation of all program components and desired outcomes.

The new study is based on 209 usable responses to a survey of 985 school districts in large cities and towns. The districts were located in 36 states and the District of Columbia. As part of their study, the researchers conducted a review of existing literature on induction and visited programs in 16 major cities. Those cities were: Albuquerque; Cincinnati; Chicago; Clark County (Las Vegas); Jefferson County (Louisville); Los Angeles; Minneapolis; Norfolk; Rochester; and San Diego.

Our challenge, as a nation, is to prepare and sustain the best teachers in the world. All teachers should participate in an ongoing collaborative and comprehensive effort to improve their teaching skills and increase the achievement of their students.

New legislation would create a new formula program to fund skills and leadership training for mentors, to ensure that mentors have the skills necessary to help our newest teachers, in addition to team teaching, peer observation and coaching, curriculum-based content training, and dedicated time for collaborative lesson planning. The legislation would also provide teachers opportunities to visit other classrooms to model effective teaching practice; training on integrating technology into the classroom, addressing the specific needs of diverse students and involving parents; and partnerships between elementary and secondary schools and institutions of higher education to provide advanced training opportunities.

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