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Supporting New Teachers

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by Johnny W. Lott, NCTM President 2002-2004
NCTM News Bulletin, October 2002

The Glenn Commission report, Before It's Too Late, identified several trends contributing to the growing teacher shortage in the United States. It noted that vacancies are increasing because a significant percentage of teachers are reaching retirement age. A different reason for vacancies is that a significant percentage of new teachers leave the profession within their first three years of service.

Beginning teachers are often hired at the last moment, left isolated in their classrooms, and given little support. They may come directly from college or from other career tracts. With our assistance and that of others in the education field, the 2002–03 inductees can gain the confidence and success necessary to sustain their interest in teaching and their dedication to students. Below are some steps we can take in our schools to welcome new colleagues and encourage them to stay in the field.

  • Schools can provide mentors for all new teachers.

NCTM recently approved a position statement, "Induction and Mentoring of New Teachers," which outlines specific methods that can be used in schools to support new teachers. The position statement recommends that schools assign experienced teachers to mentor new teachers from their beginning days of service. The experienced teachers would observe the new inductees and help them plan lessons, review lessons, and team-teach lessons. They would also provide insights into administrative details and guide new teachers without formally evaluating them.

  • Schools can provide more in-service opportunities for new teachers.

In July 2002, an international group of mathematics educators gathered at the Park City Mathematics Institute (Park City, Utah) to discuss methods of teacher preparation and in-service training. An induction program from Japan was presented by Toshikazu Ikeda and Yoshiaki Kuwahara. The program consists of approximately 90 training sessions for new teachers within their first five years of service—60 sessions in school and 30 sessions out of school. Local schools conduct the program, with small groups of teachers participating and all staff supporting the new teachers. The training sessions vary in length from 60 minutes to several days. They focus on content and pedagogy and also touch on such subjects as how to teach a single topic and how to participate in lesson-study sessions with other teachers.

Implementing a program like this in the United States and Canada would require schools to use a differentiated in-service model for teachers, and the teacher shortage is certainly serious enough to warrant such accommodations.

  • Administrators and department chairs can diversify teaching assignments and schedules for new teachers.

Starting out in the teaching profession requires new teachers to take on a great number of new responsibilities. To help them master these challenges, class schedulers can provide no-cost assistance to help inductees manage their time and energy. When assignments are made, new teachers should be given fewer preparations than experienced teachers—two at the most. They should also be given some classes with more students who are motivated. Extracurricular duties that do not require a great amount of time, such as sponsorships of selected clubs or school activities, should be given to newer teachers. In addition, administrators should ensure that new teachers have a desk they can use whenever they have preparation time. Carefully selecting assignments for new teachers is an important way to support them as they acclimate to the job.

  • Experienced teachers can make the school environment more inviting for inductees.

As discussed earlier, experienced teachers can reach out to mentor new teachers. Veteran teachers can also aid administrators by supporting scheduling that will allow the new teachers to take on responsibilities in increments. Experienced teachers should encourage attendance at, and take new colleagues to, professional meetings—such as NCTM's conferences—where educators share insight and information. New teachers can also be called on to assist when experienced teachers make presentations or lead workshops. In this manner, inductees can see professionalism in education firsthand.

There are significant benefits to implementing these suggestions. They are low-cost solutions for school districts, might reduce the need for annual personnel searches, create professional development opportunities for new and veteran teachers through mentoring relationships, and provide the much-needed support to bolster and maintain new teachers. If we can help as many as half of the 2002–03 inductees stay in the profession, we will make a significant contribution to ease the teacher shortage.

References

Before Its Too Late: A Report to the Nation from the National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century. (Glenn Commission). U.S. Department of Education, 2000.

Ikeda, Toshikazu and Yoshiaki Kuwahara. 2002. Teacher Training in Japanese Mathematics Education. Paper presented at the Institute of Advanced Studies/Park City Mathematics Institute, July 15, in Park City, Utah.

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