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August 8, 2019
Vol. 14
No. 33

Mentorships Work Wonders for New Teachers

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At the conclusion of the 2017–18 school year in South Carolina, 5,341 teachers left their positions in the state's public schools. At the same time, 1,642 teachers graduated from South Carolina's teacher-preparation programs (Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention, and Advancement [CERRA], 2019). To put that math in perspective, South Carolina is losing teachers three times as fast as its teacher education programs produce them. Of the South Carolina teachers who left the profession, 35 percent had five or fewer years of experience, while 25 percent of first-year teachers hired in the 2017–18 school year left their positions during or at the end of the term (CERRA, 2019).
It shouldn't be news by now that South Carolina is not alone in struggling with retention. High rates of teacher attrition and a shortage of new teachers across the United States spell out a crisis for many of our nation's schools (Sutcher, Darling-Hammond, & Carver-Thomas, 2016). Multiple studies show that a teacher's level of experience is a leading indicator of students' academic achievement (Ladd & Sorenson, 2017; Harris & Sass, 2011). So how do school leaders help new teachers develop into experienced educators who want to stay in the classroom?
Though every district faces unique struggles, South Carolina has a number of promising models that school leaders can follow to develop high-quality teachers who stick around. The two we want to highlight are programs we've both been involved with as leaders in teacher preparation. The Call Me MISTER program, which is headquartered at Clemson University, operates in 21 colleges and universities in South Carolina and develops preservice male students of color into effective educators. The South Carolina New Educators Conference, which was founded by teacher educators, provides pragmatic mentorships to new teachers during a one-day event. The common practices of both programs can apply to any district's work: (1) leadership development; (2) robust mentoring; (3) support for developing crucial soft skills; and (4) emphasis on reflective practice.

Leadership Development

A great teacher shapes a vision that acknowledges each individual student's personality, interests, background, and skill levels. Both Call Me MISTER and the South Carolina New Educators Conference emphasize the development of leadership skills and provide specialized leadership training resources.
Call Me MISTER members build on their leadership capacity through international travel and learn about education practices in other countries. The program provides additional field experiences throughout the summer so that participants gain more confidence and exposure to instructional practices. The South Carolina New Educators Conference, meanwhile, offers a one-day conference early in the school year for first- to fifth-year teachers to analyze their placements, their students, and their content areas, as well as to refine instructional practices and classroom management skills. Empowering teachers with this reflection allows them to connect with their work on a deeper level.

Robust Mentoring

Developing positive relationships is a crucial aspect of retaining educators over the long term. Within school buildings, principals should be hyper-intentional about the relationships that new teachers develop with mentors and actively promote meaningful collaboration for them.
Since Call Me MISTER's induction in 2000, the program has more than doubled the number of African American male teachers in South Carolina's elementary and middle schools while maintaining a 95 percent retention rate (National Dropout Prevention Center, 2017). Mentorship plays a significant role. Students participate in Living Learning Communities, which are assigned peer groups that work as teams throughout an academic course of study. These students live in the same residence hall and are responsible for assisting one another with meeting personal and professional goals.
Finally, students develop close personal relationships and mentorships on three levels: mentorships with school leaders and veteran teachers, peer mentorships with cohorts, and mentorships with children they serve in their field assignments (Jones & Jenkins, 2012). This mentorship model develops a support system for the participants that often continues long after graduation. One of us (Justin) was in the first Clemson University cohort in 2006 and is still actively involved as a mentor and leader today.

Support for Developing Crucial Soft Skills

Education is a people business. But standardized exams and formatted lessons give little indication about how to build rapport with students. Most induction-year teachers are ill-prepared to cope with the mental stresses and difficulties of the classroom environment, while many school leaders expect teachers to arrive prepared to manage a classroom. The truth is leaders need to be prepared to help teacher develop the dispositions and soft skills necessary to build relationships and keep students on track.
Teachers should be regularly practicing emotional intelligence skills like growth mindset, tenacity, empathy, and the capacity to diffuse tense situations with students. For example, schools can adapt character education initiatives that are typically focused on students to address faculty and staff needs as well.

Emphasis on Reflective Practice

A reflective practitioner generates high-quality instruction, makes cogent classroom management decisions, and builds positive rapport with parents and leaders. However, fatigue often trivializes or clouds moments of daily reflection.
The South Carolina New Educators Conference is dedicated to offering a necessary added layer of support for new educators to improve their reflective practice, including self-care strategies and communication skills. Conference participants also engage in self-reflective activities to develop personal habits of regularly evaluating and improving their skills. These include recording lessons for self-evaluation, digital journal entries, appreciation journals, and one-on-one mentoring sessions with seasoned educators and coaches.
These kinds of early investments ease the transition for novice teachers into the profession while strengthening new teacher networks and pipelines.

Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention, and Advancement. (2019). South Carolina annual educator supply & demand report (2018-19 School Year). Retrieved May 20, 2019, from www.cerra.org/uploads/1/7/6/8/17684955/2018-19_supply_demand_report_update_jan_16.pdf

Harris, D., & Sass, T. (2011). Teacher training, teacher quality and student achievement. Journal of Public Economics, 95, 799–812.

Jones, R., & Jenkins, A. (2012). Call me mister: The re-emergence of African American male teachers in South Carolina. Charleston, S.C.: Advantage.

Ladd, H., & Sorensen, L. (2017). Returns to teacher experience: Student achievement and motivation in middle school. Education Finance and Policy, 12(2), 241–279.

National Dropout Prevention Center. (2017). Approaching teacher retention the Call Me MISTER way. Retrieved May 19, 2019, from http://dropoutprevention.org/webcast/march-2017

South Carolina New Educators Conference (2019). About the South Carolina New Educators Conference. Retrieved from: www.scneconference.com. Accessed on 31 May 2019.

Sutcher, L., Darling-Hammond, L., & Carver-Thomas, D. (2016). Coming crisis in teaching? Teacher supply, demand, and shortages in the U.S. (Research Brief). Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute.

Natalie Odom Pough is an ASCD Champion in Education and a 2018 Emerging Leader. She is a math teacher at the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, a visiting professor of mathematics education at the University of Missouri, and a research ­scientist at the Atlanta University Center Data Science Initiative.

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