Renewing Experienced Teachers Through Mentoring

By Felicia Saffol, presented at the 2004 Tampa IMA Conference


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The Challenge

Recruiting and retaining a strong teaching force is a critical issue receiving increasing attention by policy makers across the country. In particular, attention is being paid to the high attrition rates among new teachers. Over two million new teachers will be needed over the next decade due to increased student enrollments, reductions in class size, and accelerating retirements (Darling-Hammond, 1997; Archer, 1999). This problem is compounded when beginning teachers leave the profession at an alarming rate. While this situation affects school districts nationwide, the problem is most severe in urban school districts where teacher turnover is as high as 50% in the first three years (Odell, 1990; Haberman & Rickards, 1990).


A Local Partnership

The Compton Fellowship Program was created in 1996 to specifically address the teacher shortage in the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). The intended goal of the program was to recruit, prepare, and retain new middle school teachers of color in MPS. Veteran teachers stepped out of their classrooms to help prepare mid-career changers to teach in middle schools. The mentoring experience provided quality professional learning for
veteran teachers and contributed to their retention in the education field.

This information draws on results of a study on the Compton Fellowship Program to demonstrate how the veteran teacher mentors described the benefits they derived from the mentoring experience and how it elevated their professional development.


Program Description

The Dorothy Danforth Compton Fellowship Program was created by the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), Marquette University, Alverno College, and Lakeland College. It is grounded in the performance standards established by the Wisconsin Standards for Teacher Development and Licensure. Full-time mentors are used.

The program provides a high quality teacher preparation program to approximately fifty individuals a year who have completed a bachelors degree in an accredited institution. At the end of the year, candidates defend a portfolio demonstrating their knowledge about teaching and learning, their dispositions, and their acquired skills. Successful candidates
are guaranteed a contract in MPS and recommended for grade 5-8 certification.


Role of Mentors

Mentors are full-time and are required to:

  • coach seven or fewer Compton Fellows
  • provide on-the-job coaching and standards-based support
  • offer ideas
  • model instructional strategies
  • team teach
  • work with the Fellow on lesson planning
  • provide resources
  • engage in on-going problem solving
  • help the Fellow make connections with the INTASC standards and pedagogy.

Selection of Mentors

Mentors are recruited from a pool of MPS teachers who:

 

  • Have been teaching for at least five years
  • Demonstrated successful urban teaching practices in their own classrooms,
  • Highly recommended by their principals
  • Experience teaching and/or providing training to adults
  • Demonstrated “star teacher” characteristics as described by Haberman (1995)

Benefits for Mentors

Being a mentor in the Compton Fellowship Program led to veteran teachers learning more about their profession and strengthening their own teaching and leadership skills. During my interviews with the mentors, they described four specific benefits of participating in the program.

These include:

  1. Appreciation for reflective practice
  2. Enhanced level of professionalism
  3. Broadened view of the profession, and…
  4. A newfound appreciation for the education field

Benefit 1: Reflective Practice is ImprovedResearch supports journal writing as a way to facilitate one’s ability to analyze his/her own learning and put learning into practice (Schon, 1983, 1987). Mentoring, however, provides a context for substantive reflective practices that go beyond journal writing. The mentors described reflection as a dual process. As part of the mentoring role, mentors were required to articulate their own practices in the classroom. They found this to be instrumental in their continued development as educators. In doing so, they helped their Fellows to engage in reflective practices.

Benefit 2: Professional Activity is Enhanced
Throughout mentorING, many opportunities were made available to the mentors to engage in professional discourse and to share their expertise with their peers in the Compton Fellowship Program and with other teachers as well. Some of these opportunities were made available to the mentors at the schools to which they were
assigned.
Often times educators underestimate the value of professional discourse in the development of teachers. Routman (2002) states that one of the most powerful approaches to developing confidence about teaching practices is ongoing professional conversations among colleagues. The Compton mentors talked a great deal about being able to work together as mentors. They were required to meet as a team for bi-weekly mentoring meetings. During the meetings, the mentors would engage in conversations about the mentoring role.

Benefit 3: Profession is Viewed on a Broader Scale
In order for teachers to continue to grow, they need to have experiences beyond their own school building and classroom. The confines of one school setting limits one’s knowledge and experience. “There is life outside of my classroom,” one mentor stated. “I never really knew anything about what anyone else was teaching or what other schools were like.” This experience has opened my eyes,” she said.

Mentors also have the opportunity to get a broader of sense of the quality of education across the district. Several of the mentors stated that they liked being able to go to various schools in the district to see what was going on. Oftentimes, they were pleased to find out that exceptional things were happening in schools all across the district.

Benefit 4: Education Field is Revalued
The mentors came to value their role as educators again. Prior to mentoring, some of the mentors were contemplating leaving the field of education. By seeing teaching through fresh eyes, mentors were reminded of why they went into teaching in the first place.

Some mentors talked about how the experience stimulated their ambition to take on administrative roles in education. Although none of the mentors reported that they were dissatisfied with mentoring, several of them stated that it was not as fulfilling as being the teacher in the classroom and being directly responsible for seeing children learn and succeed.


Conclusion
The Compton Fellowship Program began with the vision of recruiting, preparing and
supporting new teachers. While that vision remains the same, the program clearly provides new ways that veteran urban teachers are refining their practices, taking on leadership roles, and making notable contributions to the profession.

Education continues to look to mentoring programs as a fundamental means of retaining urban teachers. While this continues to be a crucial benefit of mentoring programs, those who design such programs should consider how veteran teachers can receive the full benefit of mentoring. Then, perhaps, more veteran teachers like the Compton Fellowship mentors will experience a renewed commitment to the profession.


References

Archer, J. (1999). Teacher recruitment group branches out, asserts itself. Education Week, 18(36), 6-7.

 

Darling-Hammond, L. (1997). Doing what matters most: Investing in quality teaching. New York: National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future.

Edwards, F. (2002). The impact of mentoring on new teacher retention: Perceptions of urban school teachers. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Cardinal Stritch University,
Milwaukee, WI.

Haberman, M. (1995). Star teachers of children in poverty. Bloomington, IN: Kappa
Delta Pi.

Haberman, M., & Rickards, W. R. (1990). Urban teachers who quit: Why they leave and what they do. Urban Education, 25(3), 297-303.

Odell, S. J. (1990). Support for new teachers in mentoring. In T. M. Bey & C. T. Holmes (Eds.), Mentoring: Developing successful new teachers (pp.3-23). Reston, VA: Association of Teacher Educators.

Routman, R. (2002). Teacher Talk. Educational Leadership, 59(6) 32-35.

Schon, D. A. (1983). The reflective practitioner. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Schon, D. A. (1987). Educating the reflective practitioner: Toward a new design for teaching and learning in the professions, San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.