With 39 percent of teachers new to Chicago resigning within five years, top administrators under Schools CEO Arne Duncan know the district has a problem with teacher turnover. It has increased both the staff and money devoted to the mentoring of new teachers, but local and national experts say the program falls short of what’s needed.
“I would commend Chicago for embracing mentoring, however, the training for mentors is not sufficient,” says Tom Carroll, president of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future.
Research shows that new teachers stay around longer with mentoring—having veteran teachers show them the ropes, act as a sounding board and help them perfect their teaching practices. But, mentoring is only as good as the mentor, and that’s where training—and the money to pay for it—comes in.
The School Board is spending $3.2 million on the districtwide mentor program. (The previous administration reportedly kicked in the same amount.) However, there’s no money to hire substitute teachers to cover the mentors’ classes during training, let alone during the time they work with their charges.
“We ask principals to provide subs,” says Amanda Rivera, director of CPS Teachers Academy for Professional Development. “This is a challenge.”
Pushed by two Chicago foundations, with the help of a local university and the Chicago Teachers Union, former CEO Paul Vallas launched a mandatory new-teacher mentoring program called MINT in 1997. Short for Mentoring and Induction for New Teachers, it provided four days of training in such mentoring skills as working with adults, giving feedback and effective communication. In its fifth year, 480 schools participated.
However, many principals complained that releasing teachers for training placed a big burden on their schools. They didn’t like having so many teachers, especially teacher leaders, out of the building at the same time or having to pay for substitutes to cover their classrooms.
Last year, under new leadership, MINT was revised and its name changed to GOLDEN (Guidance, Orientation and Leadership Development Empowering New Teachers).
Administrators doubled the size of the staff and increased funding for the program, and sought to involve all 600 schools. Training for mentors was reduced from four days to two—one in the fall and one in the spring—and teachers were required to attend both.
In October, 751 veteran teachers—mentors for first-year teachers and coaches for those in their second year—attended one of the six-hour training sessions conducted over a two-week period by CPS’s Teachers Academy. Last spring, nearly 400 schools sent a “lead mentor”—someone who would create new teacher support plans for their schools—to a four-day session that coached them on teaching practices, classroom observation, how adults learn and strategies to provide constructive feedback.
“Mentor development is key to a successful induction program,” stresses Ellen Moir, director of The New Teacher Center at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Optimally, mentor training takes place before school begins and continues through the year, explains Moir, whose center runs a nine- to 12-day mentor academy during the school year.
Education leaders complain that the training under GOLDEN is not enough. Shervia Randall, the lead mentor at Coles Language Academy, agrees. “I was a MINT mentor, and I think four [training sessions] are better than two. Getting together is a time for sharing and reflection, and we need to know what is working in other schools. If there is a problem that we need to work through, by the next meeting in March, the year is almost over.”
Carroll says that, based on the national teaching commission’s experience, “Two days is not sufficient. Based on our experience of what is effective, there should be two days of training in the summer, followed by two days of training during the year and additional time throughout the year to work with other mentors.”
But Teachers Academy Director Amanda Rivera says it’s hard enough to get good attendance for the two sessions. “Principals have told me, ‘I’m not sending anyone because I have too many to send out.’ We do not have money to pay for subs.”
Ravenswood Elementary Principal Joy Donovan says no one from her school went to the spring training session, and no one is attending the current training programs either. “It’s a very busy time for my teachers, plus the money just isn’t there for something I don’t consider a necessity. My current mentors have been trained.”
Some schools are so large and have so many new teachers that mentor training would seriously deplete the staff and require substantial funding to pay for substitutes. For example, Lane Technical High, which has an enrollment of 4,235 students, has 22 mentors and coaches. Steinmetz High has 30. At rates that range from $75 to $100, subs would cost Steinmetz between $2,250 and $3,000 a day.
Rivera says that some principals have asked if the Academy can send people to train mentors after school or during a common prep time. “We don’t have the capacity to do this for everyone,” she says, and when she does hold on-site sessions, they do not provide a full six hours of training. She adds: “Money would make a difference. We had hoped to get funding from the state. They set aside dollars for this, but that didn’t happen.”
State funds evaporate
Last year, the Illinois General Assembly acknowledged the importance of mentoring by allowing teachers to count participation in so-called induction programs toward earning full certification. However, the funding proposed for induction programs, $8.5 million, was cut from the budget. Rivera does not know how much CPS would have received.
Currently it costs $3.2 million to run the program. The primary costs are for mentor fees. Mentors who work with one new teacher receive a yearly stipend of $750; for two new teachers, $1,500.
Effective induction programs cost about $5,800 per new teacher per year, says Moir. The investment is worth it, she adds, because “there is no way to quantify the negative effects on a classroom when teachers leave.”
In addition to training mentors, Rivera says, “We need to provide professional development for principals [so they] understand how critical their role is. We need more dollars for substitute coverage, so all mentors can be trained properly. Having access to people has been hard.”
Still, Rivera is hopeful. Given the number of schools and teachers that have participated in training, awareness of the need to acclimate new teachers into the system has increased, she notes. “But we still have a long way to go,” she adds.
Her goal is to get 100 percent participation in GOLDEN, make sure every new teacher gets two years of support, and offer professional development to all mentors and principals. Another area she expects to improve is data collection.
Administrators do not have a clear picture of teacher attrition and retention rates, which schools have the largest teacher turnover or which schools could serve as models because they are training the most teachers.
“If you don’t have this data, you don’t know if what you are doing is working,” says Doug Timmer, a researcher at Chicago ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), which conducted its own study of teacher retention in selected schools. “You have to know who is going and who is staying.”
Rivera says a new web-based tracking system will improve data collection and make mentor assignments more efficient. For example, last year many principals did not match new teachers with mentors until after the first crucial weeks of school. Now, Rivera says, principals will be able to go online and see how many new teachers they have and whether mentors are working with new teachers and how often.
“We’ve had our glitches,” she says. “But this is our first year, so that’s to be expected. “In time, this system is going to help us keep better track of our new teachers, where they are and how they are doing. And it will help get us away from so much paperwork.”
Besides money, mentoring new teachers takes time, and some mentors say they don’t have enough of it. The first quarter of the year requires a lot of paperwork and other activity for veterans and new teachers alike, including five-week failure notices, filling in attendance books, planning remediation for children who score below the national average on the standardized tests, arranging the first report card pickup and conducting open houses.
“The first week and the last week are more harried, and that’s when new teachers need you,” says lead mentor Holly Brown of Marsh Elementary, who is mentoring two teachers. “By the time we talk to new teachers about what they need to turn in and how it should be turned in, our own stuff is late. We meet before and after school, but by that time you are tired and you want to go home.”
Area Instructional Officer Cynthia Barron says leadership is the key to resolving many of these issues. “The role of the principal is to think creatively and come up with ways to bring everyone together,” she says. “Principals must sit down and make sure mentors have the time for new teachers.”
In October, the University of Illinois at Chicago received a five-year, $5.5 million federal grant to hire full-time mentors for student and first-year teachers assigned to public schools on the West Side.
The program goal is to learn how to support new teachers who have no experience working at schools in low-income, African-American communities, says Victoria Chou, dean of UIC’s College of Education. “We’ll gather teacher and mentor assessment and data on what works best.”
CPS is working with the Illinois Retired Teachers Association to hire retired teachers to support mentors and new teachers in hard-to-staff schools. Retired teachers would cover mentor and new teachers’ classrooms to give them time to observe each others’ classes and work together. A $200,000 pilot program is slated to begin in January in up to 12 schools in Austin, Englewood and Little Village.
At central office, the district has charged the newly created Office of Principal Preparation and Development with recruiting and training new principals who will make new teacher support a priority.
“Principal development is critically important,” says CEO Arne Duncan. “Our goal is to support our new teachers. Good principals do a great job of nurturing teachers.”