Teacher mentor program grows, adds full-time staff

8/9/2016 | TACOMA, Washington

A program to assist first-year Tacoma School District teachers will improve for next year to include two types of mentors and provide mentoring support for the first three years.

During the 2015-2016 school year, first-year teachers paired with an experienced teacher. They met at least monthly. The veteran teacher visited the classroom and assisted with planning, classroom management, grades and other needs.
“They formally met once a month,” said Adrienne Dale, assistant director of Curriculum and Instruction, “but there were many partnerships that met much more frequently. We wanted to give them the just-in-time professional development, so when it was time for parent-teacher conferences, we showed them how to do that. We showed them how to close down a year, how to build relationships with kids. We wanted to give the teachers opportunities to learn from one another and to learn from the experienced teachers.”
“We collected data from the beginning to see how first-year teachers were feeling,” said Angie Neville, assistant director of Curriculum and Instruction. “There is research that shows first-year teachers go through a cycle. We made our mentors very aware of that and collected data along the way to see. If teachers were in that phase, we gave them extra support if they needed it.”
Neville pointed to information from the New Teacher Center in Santa Cruz, Calif., which states that new teachers go through six different emotional phases during their first year—anticipation, survival, disillusionment, rejuvenation, reflection and anticipation.
Despite favorable teacher feedback on the one-to-one mentoring experience, studies pointed to a more effective way, said Marie Verhaar, assistant superintendent of Teaching and Learning.
“What we know from researching other school districts that also have induction programs, is that there tends to be more success in terms of teacher retention with a full-time relief mentor,” Verhaar said.
Eva Prieto, a first-year Mount Tahoma High School Spanish teacher, said her mentor gave her a sense of security.
Her mentor, Lincoln High School Spanish teacher Alisa Farias, guided her in several areas, such as how to teach Spanish, design curriculum and draw up lesson plans.
 “It was really good,” Prieto said. “She helped me a lot. I felt very secure knowing that I had a person to go to. I was able to develop a relationship. She gave me a whole lot of ideas. She was very resourceful. Knowing that she was there and that she could answer any questions from her experience made me feel secure and that I could do this, and if I couldn’t I know who I could go to and get an immediate response.”
In addition, Prieto learned world language teacher standards, proficiency standards, classroom management and tips on how to keep students engaged.
Farias also told her about the world language teacher personal development training where the teachers communicated with each other and shared ideas.
“It was really good training,” she said. “I learned tons. It was a really good experience.”
She also learned about a world language teacher email chain, which teachers use to share lesson plans and other information.
“We are well-connected,” she said.
The teacher mentor program used by the district this past school year involved paying a teacher a stipend to act as a mentor in addition to working full time in a classroom. Under the improved program, the district will hire two experienced teachers to work as full-time mentors, Verhaar said.
“So now they can be deployed during the school day to go out and work with teachers on their planning time, before and after school, at recess, whenever the teacher needs them,” Verhaar said.
Each full-time mentor will work with up to 20 first-year teachers. In addition to the two full-time mentors, the district will continue using colleagues as mentors.
On average Tacoma Public Schools hires 100 new teachers each year.
The school district received a $375,000 Beginning Educator Support Team (BEST) from the state to fund last year’s program but needs $500,000 to move to a full-time mentorship program.
“We will grow into it slowly,” Verhaar said. “We are doing what we believe is kind of a hybrid model of the colleague and full-time relief models.”
The district plans to hire an elementary teacher along with one secondary teacher to act as the full-time mentors.
In addition, the mentorship program now will provide support to new teachers for their first three years.
“The research is very clear that teachers new to the profession should have that scaffolding and support for the first three years,” Verhaar said.
“I think we owe it to our brand new teachers that they are assured that there is some place they can go, someone they can talk to, someone they can reach out to,” Dale said.
Not only does a fully-trained teacher provide quality education, the program helps retain the new teachers. It also helps recruit quality candidates for open teacher positions. During job interviews, many candidates now ask what the district’s teacher support looks like.
“It’s an investment we make for our kids,” Verhaar said. “That is the most important investment of all, making the investment to say, ‘We want to have every child in the Tacoma School District to have the very best every day, every minute, every second of a school day.’”
Verhaar recalled a statement made by Marcy Yoshida, BEST program specialist for the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.
“What we do for our teachers, we ultimately do for our students,” Verhaar said.