By Dr. Linda Marrs-Morford, IPLI Director
It is that time of the year when new teachers are being hired. Administrators are hoping that this new crop of teachers will set the school ablaze with new ideas and teaching strategies and be the leaders they need to move their schools forward. But in reality, the chances of this happening are very slim. Recent research indicates that 40-50% will leave the classroom within the first five years; 9.5% in the first year. According to Richard Ingersoll (2013, http://theatln.tc/2nm6mhz), that is about 4% higher than other professions. Furthermore, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education, high-poverty schools experience an even greater turnover rate of about 20% per year. Ingersoll has also calculated the costs of this turnover for school districts- about $2.2 billion a year.
Ingersoll has also studied why teachers leave. He found that most of the turnover is not due to low salaries; school conditions have much more of an impact. Conditions such as “inadequate administrative support, isolated working conditions, poor student discipline …and a lack of collective teacher influence over schoolwide decisions” have much more of an impact on whether or not a new teacher decides to stay (http://bit.ly/1yC5h0W).
What can schools do to slow the revolving door? For new teachers, support is critical. In Ingersoll’s studies, “working with a mentor and having regular supportive communication with an administrator” significantly improved retention (http://theatln.tc/2nm6mhz). The time to start is right now, not two days before the school year begins.
If you do not have a formal mentoring/induction program in place for new teachers, create one. If you need ideas, simply do a quick Internet search – “new teacher mentoring/induction programs” to find examples from all over the country. There are also a number of articles and books on the topic. Better yet, form a committee of your most recent new teachers and ask them to identify what they think should be included. Including a few veteran “superstars” would also be helpful. This group might be willing to take a leadership role in the development of the program.
Here are a few other tips to help you develop your program:
- Induction starts with the hire. As soon as a teacher is hired, start communicating.
- Send a welcome letter
- Don’t wait until new teacher orientation to share information with them. Send them the student handbook, the faculty handbook, the evaluation plan, the contract, the curriculum guide, etc. This will give them time over the next couple of months to actually read these materials.
- Establish bi-weekly meetings with new teachers over the next few summer months to review the materials you have shared with them. This will #1) ensure they have read and understand the materials, and #2) give you a chance to establish expectations.
- Invite the new teachers for coffee at a local restaurant so they can start to learn about the community. Invite a few community leaders to attend.
- If school is still in session or you have summer school, invite your new teachers to come in and observe your star teachers for a few days. This will allow them to meet staff, get to know the school, and observe good teaching.
- Connect new teachers with their mentors as soon as possible. This will allow the relationship to develop over the summer.
- Share the new teacher’s schedule and room assignment(s) with him/her, ideally in early June. This will give the new teacher time to plan with the mentor.
- Organize a “district orientation” meeting in July for your new hires. Completion of paperwork, review of district policies and procedures, etc. should be the focus of this meeting. Keep it separate from your building meeting.
- Instead of a formal “new teacher orientation meeting,” consider bi-weekly meetings over the summer with identified themes and different presenters. Here are a few ideas:
- Tech for Success led by the Technology Coordinator: Establish user accounts, review the acceptable use policy, help new teachers with technology needs, share instructional strategies, etc.
- Basic Office Housekeeping led by the Office Staff: Provide procedures for making copies, ordering supplies, filling out travel vouchers, requesting professional days, etc.
- Planning for Retirement Starts Now: Bring in an investment person to help new teachers understand the teacher retirement system and other investment options. This could be part of a district orientation, but if they don’t do it, your new teachers will appreciate having this information.
- The First Days of School: Buy a copy of Harry Wong’s First Days of School or a similar book for every new teacher and organize a group read over the summer with a few group meetings to discuss. A superstar teacher might be willing to lead this.
- Behind the Scenes Supporters: At this session, introduce new teachers to those individuals working behind the scenes to help the school run successfully – custodians, food service, etc. Allow time for directors to share policies and procedures with new teachers.
- And Other Duties as Assigned: If any of your new hires will be coaching, sponsoring student activities, directing student programs, supervising the lunch room, bus loading and unloading, hallways, or the playground, make sure they have the information they need to know.
- And if your district requires the traditional “new teacher orientation meeting,” please don’t do this two days before school begins. That is too late, and your teachers will forget 80% of what was shared. Hold this meeting at least a month in advance to allow teachers time to prepare.
As you consider these ideas, you may be wondering if you have to pay new teachers for this time. Generally you do not unless it is part of the contract. So you may be asking, “If I don’t have to pay them, why would they show up?” Because it is part of being a successful professional! What new teacher would not want all the help he/she could get? Maybe you cannot make it mandatory, but if you have a new teacher not showing up, what does that tell you about his/her professionalism? Of course there are those that might not be able to attend meetings because they have not yet moved or already have summer commitments; offer them different options – Skype, video tape presentations, etc.
As you plan for the beginning of the school year, build time into a new teacher’s schedule to visit your “superstars” classrooms to observe. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every new teacher could have an extra free period to observe other teachers? If that’s not an option, maybe the administrative team or other faculty members could cover the new teacher’s classroom once a week to allow for this. Also provide release time for the mentor to observe the new teacher and provide feedback.
And once school begins, get into the classroom “early and often” so you can identify problem areas and provide support. Continue regular meetings with new teachers to address concerns and prepare them for upcoming events such as open house, parent/teacher conferences, the end of the first grading period, etc.
Remember, new teachers stay because they feel connected and supported!