Mentoring Matters!

Welcome 2015! If you have been thinking of ways to influence the profession in the New Year, you might consider mentoring early career teachers. I believe new teachers are key to our professional future. They have knowledge, passion for teaching, and innovative ideas at their fingertips. Experienced teachers: are you working to retain, empower, and equip these new teachers for ongoing success? Early career teachers: are you reaching out to collaborate with more experienced colleagues? I think that connections make a big difference for us all.

Statistically, new teachers are the highest attrition group in the teaching profession. Recent reports cite that 46% of teachers leave the profession within the first five years. It is estimated that teacher attrition costs $2.2 billion annually. Research suggests it takes 3-5 years for teachers to become “effective.” Having an ongoing churn of teachers leaving between 3-5 years decreases the potential effectiveness of teachers in classrooms. I think this is a problem for all educators in the profession. Experienced teachers should consider opportunities to influence new teacher retention in their own local context.

Despite the many factors of new teacher attrition, mentoring is one of the most important interventions for teacher retention. As an induction coach for first-year special education teachers, I am really passionate about equipping these teachers with effective resources, empowering them as leaders in the field, and retaining them as colleagues. When supporting new teachers, I believe it is most important to treat them as professionals right away without any stigma of being “less experienced.” New teachers need resources, but they have a lot of resources on their own! It’s all about the right balance of support and respect. I have learned many things from my early career colleagues over the years.

Over the last few weeks, I have been thinking about the important influence we all have on early career teachers. In December, we had a mid-year celebration potluck for our first-year special education teachers. We asked each teacher to invite one person (outside of induction) who had made a difference for them so far this year. It was really neat to see the different colleagues who were invited that night. As I walked around the room, I noticed the diverse crowd: fellow teachers, administrators, speech therapists, and other related services providers. None of these people had official titles as “mentors,” yet they had all taken the time to make a difference for a colleague. It made me think about the unique influence and opportunities we all have to support beginning teachers at our sites.

If you are already mentoring new teachers, pat yourself on the back. I think this is a great way to advance the profession! If you aren’t yet mentoring new teachers, consider how you might influence one or two teachers at your site. As new teachers come back from winter break, they are often near the lowest phase in first-year teaching curve: disillusionment. Be part of the rejuvenation they need to look toward next year with anticipation and excitement. We can all play a part in the lives of these important colleagues. Make 2015 a year about connections!


Jess Ledbetter

Dr. Jess Ledbetter teaches preschool students with developmental delays in a Title I school in Glendale, Arizona. She is a National Board Certified Teacher (ENS-ECYA), an Arizona Hope Street Group Teacher Fellow Alumni, and a Candidate Support Provider for teachers seeking their National Board Certification. She earned her doctorate in Educational Leadership and Innovation at ASU in 2016. Her mixed methods research used a Communities of Practice model as a strategy for early career special education teachers to collaborate with peers to increase their team leadership skills working with paraeducators in their individual classrooms.

Dr. Ledbetter is guided by the belief that all teachers are leaders in their classrooms and possess the skills to be leaders within their schools, districts, communities, and greater context. She hopes you will contribute to the dialogue by leaving comments about your own experiences, opinions, and insights so that real-life stories from our schools can inform the policies that affect students, teachers, and their communities.

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