In battle against teacher turnover, MSU mentoring program proves effective

Feb 24, 2009

Beginning teachers in urban school districts quit at an alarming rate - often from lack of support - and Michigan State University education experts are targeting the problem with an innovative mentoring program.

The research-based initiative already has proven successful in the Lansing School District, based on a new study, and now is being replicated at a much larger district in Atlanta. It could ultimately serve as a national model.

A major component involves freeing up veteran teachers to advise their beginning peers throughout the school year. It's a huge commitment - the Fulton County School System has released seven teachers from the classroom to act as full-time mentors - but holds promise for districts struggling to raise teacher quality and keep new teachers from becoming frustrated and leaving for another system.

Previous research has shown that nearly 50 percent of new teachers leave within five years and student achievement often suffers as a result.

"We call it the revolving door," said Randi Stanulis, MSU associate professor of education and director of the program.

A study by Stanulis and Robert Floden, University Distinguished Professor and associate dean for research in MSU's College of Education, found the mentoring program improved teacher effectiveness in the Lansing district when it was tested there during the 2005-06 school year. The findings are published in the March/April edition of the Journal of Teacher Education.

Stanulis said many school districts' mentoring, or induction, programs are ineffective because the mentors are poorly chosen and not trained properly. This is typical in states such as Michigan that have an unfunded mandate requiring each beginning teacher to have a mentor. Often, the mentor simply becomes a "buddy" - available for advice and explaining school procedures but rarely observing or providing feedback about teaching and learning.

Through the MSU program, which is funded by the Carnegie Foundation's Teachers for a New Era, veteran teachers are recruited and interviewed for mentor positions. They are matched with beginning teachers based on teaching responsibilities related to content and grade level. The mentors are continually trained throughout the school year.

Some mentors are then trained as coaches - meaning they can train mentors themselves and eventually make the program self-sufficient within the school system.

Stanulis said effective mentoring can create better novice teachers, improve student performance and potentially curb high teacher turnover.

"It's not that first-year teachers are unqualified," she said. "You wouldn't take a student who just graduated from medical school and have him perform surgery the next day. But that's what we do with teachers: They graduate in May and in August they're expected to do the same thing as someone who's been teaching 10 years."

In Fulton County, as in many large districts, teacher turnover remains a problem. The school system loses about 1,000 teachers a year - or about 10 percent of its instructional workforce, according to Tawana Miller, the system's director of Title I and school improvement. Miller worked closely with the MSU team to implement the mentoring program in the Fulton County School System this year.

"Many new teachers are placed in an environment where it's a do-or-die, sink-or-swim situation," said Miller, who explains that she has "battle scars" from her first few years as a teacher in Fulton County. "It's almost an impossible task."

Source: Michigan State University

Explore further: Can science eliminate extreme poverty?

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

How smartphone tech could change behavior

Dec 24, 2013

Funneling a steady stream of diversions straight to your pocket, smartphones are often cast as the ultimate distractors. But a University of Michigan engineering professor sees potential for them to be something quite the ...

Turning bacteria into chemical factories

Nov 06, 2013

Most academics follow a very traditional path to a job as a professor: earn a PhD, spend a few years as a postdoc, then find a tenure-track job as an assistant professor.

Recommended for you

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

13 hours ago

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Study finds law dramatically curbing need for speed

Apr 18, 2014

Almost seven years have passed since Ontario's street-racing legislation hit the books and, according to one Western researcher, it has succeeded in putting the brakes on the number of convictions and, more importantly, injuries ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Sophos
not rated yet Feb 24, 2009
so the poor conditions of urban schools and the badly behaved students don't really contribute to the bulk of teacher turnover?

I predict this will not work to any appreciable degree

More news stories

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

UAE reports 12 new cases of MERS

Health authorities in the United Arab Emirates have announced 12 new cases of infection by the MERS coronavirus, but insisted the patients would be cured within two weeks.