Assigning experienced teachers to guide and support novice teachers provides valuable professional development for both new and veteran teachers. Charlotte Danielson (1999) found that mentoring helps novice teachers face their new challenges; through reflective activities and professional conversations, they improve their teaching practices as they assume full responsibility for a class. Danielson also concluded that mentoring fosters the professional development of both new teachers and their mentors.
Well-designed mentoring programs also lower the attrition rates of new teachers (National Association of State Boards of Education, 1998). Kathleen Boyer (1999) found that among new special education teachers who continued to teach for a second year, 20 percent noted that they stayed because of the mentoring support that they had received. And a study of new teachers in New Jersey reported that the first-year attrition rate of teachers trained in traditional college programs without mentoring was 18 percent, whereas the attrition rate of first-year teachers whose induction program included mentoring was only 5 percent (Gold, 1999).
Both mentors and their protégés respond favorably to the mentoring process. In an analysis of the effects of the Beginning Teachers' Induction Program in New Brunswick, Canada, which was developed by the province's department of education, teachers association, and the University of New Brunswick, Neil H. Scott (1999) found that 96 percent of the beginning teachers and 98 of the experienced teachers in the study felt that they benefitted from the program. The experienced teachers were particularly enthusiastic because they believed that mentoring allowed them to help others, improve themselves, receive respect, develop collegiality, and profit from the novice teachers' fresh ideas and energy. As Christine Hegstad (1999) indicates, the benefits of mentoring are both career-related and psychosocial.
Mentors Need Training
To be effective, mentoring programs need focus and structure. Diane Kyle, Gayle Moore, and Judy Sanders (1999) note that prospective mentors should participate in professional development to learn about the mentoring process and what is expected of them before assuming their duties. Their research also shows that mentor teachers need support and the opportunity to discuss ideas, problems, and solutions with other mentor teachers.
Appropriate training for the mentor's expanded teaching role improves the quality of a mentoring program. A formal, comprehensive mentoring program developed at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, for example, provided mentor teachers with specific knowledge and skills related to their new and expanded teaching roles. Carolyn Evertson and Margaret Smithey (2000) found that novice teachers working with trained mentors possessed a higher level of teaching skills than new teachers whose mentors were not trained. This finding demonstrates that the mere presence of a mentor is not enough; the mentor's knowledge of how to support new teachers and skill at providing guidance are also crucial.
California recently developed a comprehensive program, the California Formative Assessment and Support System for Teachers (CFASST), to support and assess new teachers. The collaborative efforts of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, the California Department of Education, the regional educational laboratory WestEd, the University of California at Santa Cruz, and the Educational Testing Service developed this program for beginning teachers and their mentors.
Trained mentors help novice teachers plan lessons, assist them in gathering information about best practices, observe the new teachers' classes, and provide feedback. The novice teachers reflect on their practice and apply what they have learned to future lessons. In an analysis of the initial impact of the program, Barbara Storms, Jean Wing, Theresa Jinks, Kathleen Banks, and Patricia Cavazos (2000) found that most of the program's teachers said that mentoring played a significant role in the professional growth of the new teachers. Specifically, the program's design helped new teachers hone their practice—planning lessons, for example—and reflect on the effectiveness of their instruction. Mentors also found that working with beginning teachers engaged them in reflection about their own instruction practices.
Carmen Giebelhaus and Connie Bowman (2000) studied another large-scale mentoring program, Pathwise, a formal induction process developed by the Educational Testing Service for prospective teachers and their mentors. The study's purpose was to find out whether a specific model for framing discussions on teaching and learning would nurture and develop prospective teachers' pedagogical skills. Data analysis indicated that prospective teachers who were assigned mentors trained in using this discussion framework demonstrated more complete and effective planning, more effective classroom instruction, and a higher level of reflection on practice than did new teachers whose mentors had received only an orientation program. The researchers concluded that formal induction program models like Pathwise provide a framework for discussion, reflection, and goal setting and lead to more effective teaching by novices.
The evidence is convincing: A focused, systematic mentoring program has a positive influence on the performance of new teachers—and is advantageous to mentors as well. Above all, this support for new teachers benefits their students.
Boyer, K. (1999). A qualitative analysis of the impact of mentorships on new special educators' decision to remain in the field of special education. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA.
Danielson, C. (1999). Mentoring beginning teachers: The case for mentoring. Teaching and Change, 6(3), 251–257.
Evertson, C., & Smithey, M. (2000). Mentoring effects on protégés' classroom practice: An experimental field study. Journal of Educational Research, 93(5), 294–304.
Giebelhaus, C., & Bowman, C. (2000, February). Teaching mentors: Is it worth the effort? Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Association of Teacher Educators, Orlando, FL. (ERIC Document Reproduction Services No. ED 438 277)
Gold, Y. (1999). Beginning teacher support. In J. Sikula, T. Buttery, & E. Guyton (Eds.), Handbook of research in teacher education (2nd ed.) (pp. 548–594). New York: Macmillan.
Hegstad, C. (1999). Formal mentoring as a strategy for human resource development: A review of research. Human Resource Development Quarterly, 10(4), 383–390.
Kyle, D., Moore, G., & Sanders, J. (1999). The role of the mentor teacher: Insights, challenges, and implications. Peabody Journal of Education, 74(3–4), 109–122.
National Association of State Boards of Education. (1998). The numbers game. Alexandria, VA: Author.
Scott, N. H. (1999). Supporting new teachers: A report on the 1998–99 beginning teacher induction program in New Brunswick. (ERIC Document Reproduction Services No. ED 437 347)
Storms, B., Wing, J., Jinks, T., Banks, K., & Cavazos, P. (2000). CFASST (field review) implementation 1999–2000: A formative evaluation report. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service.
John H. Holloway is Project Director, Educational Testing Service, Princeton, NJ 08541; email@example.com.
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