Help for Beginning Teachers
The University of Virginia and the public school districts of Charlottesville and Albermarle have always been neighbors…but they haven’t always been friends. Teachers for a New Era has helped to transform that relationship
Part of the fundamental TNE design calls for education to be viewed as an “academically taught clinical practice profession” (think of the medical profession) with continuing professional support during the first two full years of teaching. UVA is fulfilling this requirement through unprecedented long-term partnerships with the two neighboring school districts, delivering a range of services to all novice teachers there—not just its own graduates. Luftig termed the arrangement an excellent “quid pro quo,” in that it provides “an ideal lab for teaching UVA graduates, while offering a service to local schools.” Most importantly to local supervisors, it is also helping to solve the serious problem of teacher attrition, which helps counteract the university’s cyclically transient student body. “Graduates simply tend to move on,” he noted.
Three goals define the teacher induction program: providing relevant pedagogical content and professional knowledge novice teachers need for their new careers; instilling in young teachers the awareness that lifelong learning and professional development are the keys to a successful career; and serving the school system by increasing retention of new teachers. Like any comprehensive new program, this one is a painstaking process, but in the end everybody wins: the university, the local schools, novice teachers and the students.
Without my mentor I would not have made it through the year! She has been supportive and informative at the same time. First year teachers are expected to attain the same goals and maintain the same workload as veterans. Without extra help, very valuable teachers would be lost forever.
—Elementary school teacher
Using materials adapted from a highly effective model program created at the New Teacher Center at the University of California, Santa Cruz, UVA faculty have trained a team of 15 teacher advisors to provide one-on-one mentoring support through weekly meetings that may encompass classroom observation, team teaching, sessions with master teachers, reviewing of real-life classroom videos, attending frequent workshops and other strategies. Continuing the undergraduate collaboration, arts and sciences faculty participate in workshops to extend their connection with teacher candidates from preservice into early years of teaching. The 25 percent of UVA graduates who work outside the county will also be supported, using a system that provides access to online resources including teaching materials, lesson plans as well as virtual communities and “e-mentors.” Future teachers are exposed to these resources during their internship semester and use them in required coursework.
Each week advisors and novices complete nonevaluative Collaborative Assessment Logs which, combined with other information, help identify weak points where more work is needed. Teachers have the freedom to request help in a variety of ways to meet any classroom challenge, from engaging students in learning, managing and organizing the classroom and planning lessons to understanding difficult subject matter, communicating with parents and planning for specific events such as field trips or back-to-school night. “We may have in mind what we want to do, but it has to be ad hoc so we can meet their needs of the moment, said Albermarle new teacher advisor Lisa Baker. “This is a valuable beginning voice for beginning teachers,” she added “with the potential to cultivate inherent leadership qualities.”
I have been very fortunate to have an advisor that can come and give me advice on how to manage a classroom, deal with students, integrate technology and any other subject that I may have questions about. Not only that, but to have someone there to say that you are not the only one dealing with these problems, and it is okay, is a very special thing. I think that this is essential to the success of new teachers.
—Middle school teacher
To determine whether induction support is effective, teachers may be evaluated in myriad ways: novices complete surveys on such subjects as mentoring experiences, teaching knowledge and skills and their classroom practices are observed using the CLASS system at multiple points during the school year. Studies conducted by the Center for the Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning show positive results right from the start, backed up by data from the 2005-06 Albermarle County Public Schools Human Resources department, which suggests that support for beginning teachers has resulted in 33 percent fewer novice teachers leaving the division, compared to five years ago. “It’s enormously successful,” Fallon said. Recognizing the impact Teachers for a New Era has made, the two participating school divisions ended their second year by making funding commitments to the program.