Story posted September 17, 2008
• 78% teacher retention rate, up from 68% in 2001
• 96% teacher retention rate in Hard-To-Staff Schools last year
• Principals report that student achievement in classrooms with new teachers equals that in veteran teacher classrooms by the second and third benchmark testing periods each year
Hampton City Schools (HCS) in Hampton, VA, face challenges common to many districts around the nation. A combination of early retirement, low salaries, inadequate education funding, and concerns about teachers' quality of life makes recruiting and retaining teachers difficult. At the same time, rising student enrollment has increased demand for more teachers. The result? The number of teachers with zero years experience grows each year.
Citing research that new teachers do less to raise student achievement than veteran teachers do, HCS formed the "New Teacher Induction Program." This program has raised student achievement by enhancing teacher quality and increasing teacher retention.
HCS collaborated with the Hampton Education Association to create and sustain a comprehensive induction and mentoring program for beginning teachers. They formed a partnership that now includes the Virginia Education Association, the National Education Association (NEA), NEA's association for retired educators, and several area colleges. With funding from the Virginia Department of Education Hard-to-Staff Schools' Project, these partners provide the induction program with the expertise and knowledge of experienced teachers, retired teachers, association leaders, instructional leaders, higher education faculty, state department personnel, and the business community.
In too many schools across the country, teachers are left to sink or swim. Not so in Hampton. Already during orientation week, each new hire meets with instructional leaders and is assigned a "building mentor," a veteran teacher within his or her school. This mentor introduces him or her to school policies, procedures and curriculum issues. Building mentors remain with their new teacher for three years, and in return they receive a stipend and points towards recertification.
Teachers who have no teaching experience get even more help. The district pairs each with a "retired teacher mentor." These mentors, who are selected through an application process and receive a stipend for their services, coach new teachers during the instructional day. They provide feedback, expertise and immediate support in classroom management and effective instructional techniques. They also assist with other aspects of teaching, such as room arrangement, classroom management, and instructional planning. Each new teacher receives at least 25 hours of contact time with his or her retired teacher mentor during his or her first semester teaching. In Hard-to-Staff schools, retired teachers may continue mentoring beyond the first year.
According to one retiree mentor "I can give back to the profession to which I have dedicated my life...make a difference in the lives of beginning teachers who in turn will impact the learning of many students."
The "New Teacher Induction Program" offers more than just mentors. The district also offers new teachers the support of a "teacher specialist." This district employee coaches new teachers during their first five years in the classroom. The teacher specialist visits new teachers in their classrooms, observes them and provides feedback, facilitates discussion groups, models lessons, and presents workshops. The teacher specialist also trains mentors, leading workshops on topics such as coaching new teachers, strong instructional strategies, lesson planning, classroom management strategies and communication skills.
The New Teacher Induction program has been very successful. When it began 6 years ago, the "unofficial" teacher retention rate was 68% (the district did not, at the time, track teacher retention, and this number was determined by a hand-count of the district's separation reports, which list all departing teachers). Over the last few years, the district's overall retention rate has climbed to 78%. Among teachers with both a building mentor and retired teacher mentor, the retention rate increases to 82%. Among schools targeted by the Hard-to-Staff Schools Project, the retention rate last year was 96%. Focus groups and surveys attribute this success to the increased confidence of new teachers, the feeling of professional growth they experience, and the fact that the program eases participants' anxieties about teaching.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that the program is also having its desired impact on student achievement. Principals report that, by the second and third benchmark testing periods each year, students in new teachers' classrooms perform as well as veteran teachers' students. Feedback from program participants links this outcome to growth in teachers' instructional skills and the likelihood that they will use multiple instructional strategies. One graduate of the induction program (who later became the Hampton Education Association president) put it this way: "As a career changer, this was key to my success in the classroom...I have no doubt that I am a better teacher and leader..."
This program is also having a positive impact on the Hampton Education Association. Because the district is attracting excellent teaching candidates, improving the retention of effective first-year educators, and easing their transition into the profession, the association is attracting more enthusiastic teachers. These teachers want to be involved in association activities and have taken on leadership roles as building representatives, convention delegates, and local officers.
For additional information, please contact:
Professional Development, Teacher Specialist for Hampton City Schools
This story came to LFA's attention as a winner of the 2008 NEA-Saturn/UAW Partnership Award for Teacher Induction Programs.
Story adapted with permission from NEA and Hampton City Schools.
To learn more about the partnership award, visit the award page on NEA's site.