If you walk through Rayville Junior High School in rural Richland Parish, Louisiana, you might see something not uncommon—two teachers in the classroom. But this isn’t your typical student teacher, paraprofessional, or inclusion specialist scenario. One is a full-time, first-year teacher working on her certification through an alternate, or post-baccalaureate, pathway, and the other is his or her mentor. It is clear the teachers have planned this lesson collaboratively, and they trade off facilitating instruction or circulating among the small groups in the classroom.
Many schools across the country provide new teachers with mentors for support. But often, the relationship is little more than “in name only,” without an opportunity for real partnership and growth. To address this, eight school systems in rural Louisiana are piloting new models that protect time during the school day for new teachers and mentors to work as a team: co-teaching, collaboratively planning, and conducting observations with time for feedback. New teachers have, on average, one hour every day to work with their mentors, tripling the amount of mentoring these teachers typically receive.
These eight school systems are part of a pilot run by the Louisiana Department of Education. While Louisiana has a robust mentoring program to support its undergraduate residents who are it a traditional certification pathway, until now there was little support for full-time, first-year teachers who are still working on their alternate certification. Over the course of the 2017-2018 school year, these school systems and their schools worked with advisors from Education Resource Strategies (ERS) to design new schedules, teacher teams, cultural norms, and trade-offs needed to provide rookie teachers with both “shelter” (i.e. reduced workloads) and “development” (i.e. opportunities for learning, practicing, and feedback). ERS has collected modified versions of the tools we used with Louisiana school leaders into a “new teacher support toolkit” that any school system or school leader can use.
In this school year, the school systems are piloting new designs across 16 schools with 38 candidates. While every pilot looks different, some common themes are emerging that may apply to expanding this work to all new teachers.
Successful new teacher support involves matching the needs of the candidates with the strengths of the mentor, and that can require coordination across a school system.
It may feel daunting to radically change the new teacher supports your school system provides, but this work is not only doable—it can be done without an influx of funding. These rural school systems have limited budgets and frequent staffing turnover, but with creativity and leadership they have succeeded in changing the new teacher experience. Staffing their schools with a stable pipeline of effective teachers is a priority for these schools, and they reallocated resources in order to create the new teacher supports needed to hopefully help their teachers stay and make a difference for kids in rural Louisiana parishes. This pilot is still in its first year of implementation, so we are still awaiting data on the full impact on student achievement and teacher retention, but we are already seeing qualitative evidence that these new teacher supports are having an effect on teacher satisfaction and adult culture.
The New Teacher Support Toolkit provides concrete tools to help school systems organize their resources to support new teachers, including a Playbook with 5 “models” that have worked in schools, planning spreadsheets, and best-practice workbooks.