Reimagining Teacher Mentoring Programs: A Key to Solving the Teacher Shortage

It is officially that time again. The time when teachers start returning to their classrooms for another school year. For an estimated 310,000 teachers (Perry-Graves, 2022), this will be their first time in the classroom, and back to school also means meeting their assigned mentor. Most districts use a formal mentoring program in which districts place new teachers with veteran colleagues. While many believe that mentors are only responsible for providing feedback on their mentee’s classroom instruction, the mentor’s role is much more complex. A good mentor can be an essential resource for helping novice teachers navigate the hidden curriculum of their new workspace, find a sustainable work/life balance, juggle the countless demands of the profession, and rely upon a consistent sounding board for what is sure to be a rollercoaster of a year.

As a former teacher, I was lucky enough to have an active and caring mentor during my first year of teaching, and was able to model those relationships as I moved from mentee to mentor later in my career. My mentor and my mentees were all good matches for my personality, and we were able to establish strong relationships through shared goals and reciprocal trust. But I know my experience might be an outlier, as the effectiveness of mentoring programs is often questioned. Given these concerns, I have identified several interconnected areas that need further consideration to improve the mentoring experience for novice teachers.

Pausing To Reflect On A Stressful School Year

The Albert Shanker Institute has long prioritized research on improving conditions for teaching and learning. We committed to compile and share the ideas and actions of accomplished educators and education leaders while seeing the impact of the pandemic on our schools. Knowing that research also points to the importance of principal leadership in our school communities, we were troubled to read the concerning results of the survey the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) released earlier this month. We knew we needed to share the results. We are very fortunate that, amidst the whirlwind of her school and leadership duties, NASSP Principal of the Year, Beth Houf shared her reflections on her experiences, the NASSP survey results, and suggestions for a path forward with the Shanker blog. Please take some time to read and reflect on Beth’s experience and commit to advocating in 2022 for the insightful and productive ideas she offers. Thank you. - Mary Cathryn Ricker

Winter break has officially started for our school, and I finally have time to reflect on the first half of the school year. It has truly been a whirlwind.

Being a principal has never been an easy job. But there have been more days this year that have delivered impossible situations and that have left me overwhelmed, overstressed, and completely empty. Everything is urgent. We all know that when everything is important, nothing can be important. My school is understaffed daily. Everyone is doing their own job and then the job of others. Those who need to take a day off carry the guilt of their absence. Student behaviors are over the top. Fuses are short and tempers flare. Social media has only added fuel to the fire. All I can do is react. There’s simply no time to be the proactive leader that I strive to be. It shouldn’t be this way.

How To Support Teachers' Well-Being During COVID-19? Prioritize Relationships With Students.

Our guest authors today are Kristabel Stark, postdoctoral research associate at the University of Maryland, and Nathan Jones, associate professor of special education and education policy at Boston University. 

As schools around the country get ready to reopen this month, we’ve heard a lot of talk about masks, ventilation systems, tablets, and internet access. But in the midst of these logistical conversations, it’s been easy to overlook the thing that matters most for a successful return to school: teachers.  For teachers, factors associated with COVID-19 have challenged core dimensions of their work. As school gets underway this year, and building and district administrators strategize how to go about rebuilding again in the midst of a pandemic, our research suggests that one action is critical: prioritizing relationship building between teachers and students. We find that, of all of teachers’ daily activities, it is their work with students that is most strongly associated with positive emotions. And, this relationship actually intensified in the early months of the pandemic.

We did not set out to write a COVID paper. In the fall of 2019, we set out to conduct a longitudinal study of teachers’ daily work experiences, including how they budgeted their time across activities and how their emotions varied within and across schooldays. In the study, nearly 250 teachers in two urban school districts completed time diary surveys in which they recorded how long they spent on various activities, who they spent their time with, and how they felt during these activities and interactions.  We wanted to understand how teachers’ emotions were associated with specific professional activities, and how those emotions changed over the course of a school year. But of course, we didn’t foresee that, midway through data collection, a global pandemic would emerge, temporarily transforming the nature of teachers’ work lives and professional experiences.

Where Al Shanker Stood: How To Harass A Fulbright Teacher

In this column, originally published in the New York Times on November 3, 1985, Al Shanker argues that teachers need to be treated respectfully, as the dedicated professionals they are.

This is the story of a man who offended the powers that be. It has nothing to do with the Medicis, the Borgias or Henry the Eighth but a lot to do with the way too many of our schools are administered. Bert (not his real name) has been a New York City social studies teachers for many years, first in junior high and then in high school. He's also a perennial student. In addition to holding two master's degrees, he's spent most of his summers taking solid academic courses at places like Columbia, Temple, Princeton, Rensselaer. Over the years he's won three Fulbright scholarships for study in India, Israel and, this past summer, in Korea.

There's nothing parochial about Bert's  interests. He's done work in human relations, psychology, urban problems, Ottoman and Korean culture, the history of anti-Semitism and of slavery, law, school administration, American history and a whole college catalogue of other subjects. In 1980 he was cited for his "outstanding  professional participation" in a summer human rights workshop at Skidmore College.

Most important, there's nothing of the ivory tower or the dilettante in all this. Bert brought what he had studied back into his classroom and into his professional relations with his colleagues. His principal once praised him for the "keen insights" he offered in a presentation to the entire faculty after a summer of study in Israel. Now he's preparing a new syllabus for his social studies department based on his summer in Korea. His chairmen have consistently praised his teaching ability. A recent observation report on one of his lessons concluded with, "Keep up the good work."

Sounds like the record of one of the top teachers in his school, right? Wrong! The punch line is that Bert was rated "unsatisfactory" by his principal at the end of the last school year.

Recruiting And Retaining Educators Of Color

Our guest authors today are Audra Watson, Travis Bristol, Terrenda White and Jose Vilson. Watson is Program Officer and Director of Mentoring and Induction Strategy at the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. Bristol is a Research and Policy Fellow at Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education. White is Assistant Professor at the University of Colorado-Boulder. Vilson is a math educator, blogger, speaker, and activist in New York City, NY

On Thursday, May 7, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans and the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE) co-sponsored an hour-long webinar, in which researchers, policy makers, and practitioners shared best practices and strategies for increasing the racial/ethnic diversity of the country’s teaching force.

As discussed during the webinar, a racially and ethnically diverse teaching force is important for several reasons. First, in this flat, or interconnected, world, our children need a diverse teaching force to prepare them to be global citizens. Second, teachers of color are positioned to serve as role models and cultural brokers for children of color, who account for 50.2 percent of all U.S. public school students (NCES, 2015). Despite this diverse student population, Latino, Black, Asian, and Native American teachers comprise only 17.3% of all teachers (Ingersoll, Merrill & Stuckey, 2014). Third, several large-scale studies point to increased learning -- as measured by a standardized exam -- for students when they have a teacher of the same race (Dee, 2001; Egalite, Kisida,& Winters, 2015); Not discussed at the time, but equally important, is the fact that a diverse teaching force challenges the assumption that some of the qualities needed most by high-quality, effective teachers -- intelligence, intellectual curiosity, and deep content knowledge -- are difficult to find in large supply amongst individuals of color seeking to enter the teaching profession.

Developing Workplaces Where Teachers Stay, Improve, And Succeed

** Republished here in the Washington Post

Our guest authors today are Matthew A. Kraft and John P. Papay. Kraft is an Assistant Professor of Education at Brown University. Papay is an Assistant Professor of Education and Economics at Brown University. In 2015, they received the American Educational Research Association Palmer O. Johnson Memorial Award for the research discussed in this essay. 

When you study education policy, the inevitable question about what you do for a living always gets the conversation going. Controversies over teachers unions, charter schools, and standardized testing provide plenty of fodder for lively debates. People often are eager to share their own experiences about individual teachers who profoundly shaped their lives or were less than inspiring.

A large body of research confirms this common experience – teachers have large effects on students’ learning, and some teachers are far more effective than others. What is largely absent in these conversations, and in the scholarly literature, is a recognition of how these teachers are also supported or constrained by the organizational contexts in which they teach.

The absence of an organizational perspective on teacher effectiveness leads to narrow dinner conversations and misinformed policy. We tend to ascribe teachers’ career decisions to the students they teach rather than the conditions in which they work. We treat teachers as if their effectiveness is mostly fixed, always portable, and independent of school context. As a result, we rarely complement personnel reforms with organizational reforms that could benefit both teachers and students.

New Teacher Attrition And The Recession

The Beginning Teacher Longitudinal Study (BTLS), a terrific project by the National Center for Education Statistics, tracks a nationally representative cohort of beginning teachers (those who started in 2007 or 2008) through their first five years and documents their turnover outcomes. Results from this survey have been trickling out every year (see our post here), but the most recent report presents outcomes from these teachers’ first four years.

The headline story, as reported in the Washington Post, was that roughly 17 percent of these new teachers had left the profession entirely within their first four years. A number of commenters, including the Post article, hastened to point out that the BTLS estimates are far lower than the “conventional wisdom” statistic that 40-50 percent leave the profession within the first five years (see here for more on this figure; also see Perda 2013 for a similar five-year estimate using longitudinal data). These findings are released within a political context where teacher attrition (somewhat strangely) has become a contentious political issue, one which advocates tend to interpret in a manner that supports their pre-existing beliefs about education policy.

Putting this source of contention aside, the BTLS results clearly show that new teacher attrition during these years was far lower than is often assumed, and certainly that teachers are not fleeing the classroom at a greater clip than in previous years. This is important, and cannot be "explained away" by any one factor, but we should still be careful about generalizing too strongly these findings beyond this particular time period, given that the BTLS cohort of teachers entered the classroom almost precisely at the time that the "great recession" began. This is, of course, not a new or original point – it was, for instance, mentioned briefly in the Post article. And it's hardly groundbreaking to note that labor market behavior does not occur in a vacuum. Still, given all the commentary about the BTLS results, it may be worth reviewing briefly.

Teacher Turnover At Success Academy Charter Schools

A recent New York Times article about the Success Academies, a large chain of New York City charter schools, focuses a great deal on the long working hours and heavy stress faced by teachers at these schools. The article reports that three Success Academy (SA) schools had teacher turnover rates above 50 percent. Officials from the network, however, dispute these figures, which they say are inflated by the fact that many teachers who leave SA schools simply transfer to other SA schools (i.e., they are counted falsely as leaving SA when they are in fact staying within the network).

In fact, SA officials claim that, when one account for these intra-network transfers, their true turnover rate across all their schools ("attrition from the network," in the article) between June 2013 and June 2014 was 17 percent, which is far lower than many critics suggest. Now, on the one hand, these ongoing debates about teacher turnover at SA schools, which have been occurring regularly for years, are a little strange. It is clear that SA teachers work unusually long hours in high stress, tightly regulated environments, and do so for salaries that are lower than those offered by most other professional jobs with similar working conditions. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that turnover would be high; indeed, high teacher churn, like student mobility, is in many respects part of the model of schools such as the Success Academies (and, of course, some turnover, such as that among poorly performing teachers or those who are not a good fit for their schools, can be beneficial).

On the other hand, however, SA officials are making an empirical claim about turnover at their schools, one that includes an interesting and somewhat unusual angle (intra-network mobility). And this claim is very easy to examine with teacher-level data that we happen to have available via a public records request. So, let’s take a quick look at turnover at SA between 2012-13 and 2013-14 (the latest year-to-year transition we have).

How Boston Public Schools Can Recruit and Retain Black Male Teachers

Our guest author today is Travis J. Bristol, former high school English teacher in New York City public schools and teacher educator with the Boston Teacher Residency program, who is currently a research and policy fellow at the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE) at Stanford University.

The challenges faced by Black male teachers in schools may serve as the canary in the coalmine that begins to explain the debilitating condition faced by Black boys in schools. Black males represent 1.9% of all public school teachers yet have one of the highest rates of turnover. Attempts to increase the number of Black male teachers are based on research that suggests these new recruits can improve Black students’ schooling outcomes.

Below, I discuss my study of the school-based experiences of 27 Black male teachers in Boston Public Schools (BPS), who represent approximately 10 percent of all Black male teachers in the district. This study, which I recently discussed in Boston’s NPR news station, is one of the largest studies conducted exclusively on Black male teachers and has implications for policymakers as well as school administrators looking to recruit and retain Black male educators.

Here is a summary of the key findings.

Opportunity To Churn: Teacher Assignments Within New York City Schools

Virtually all discussions of teacher turnover focuses on teachers leaving schools and/or the profession. However, a recent working paper by Allison Atteberry, Susanna Loeb and James Wyckoff, which was presented at this month’s CALDER conference, reaches a very interesting conclusion using data from New York City: There is actually more movement within NYC schools than between them.*

Specifically, the authors show that, during the years for which they had data (1997-2002 and 2004-2010), over 50 percent of teachers in any given year exhibited some form of movement (including leaving the profession or switching schools), but two-thirds of these moves were within schools – i.e., teachers changing grades or subjects. Moreover, they find that these within-school moves, like those between-schools/professions, appear to have a negative impact on testing outcomes, one which is very modest but statistically discernible in both math and reading.

There are a couple of interesting points related to these main findings.