By Cheri Farrior

On April 11, I had the privilege of attending The Future of Teacher Prep: A Conversation with Educators and Other Experts, which was hosted by our partners at the Center for American Progress and Hope Street Group. The program was held in response to the recent federal bill which eliminated teacher preparation regulations and also to highlight Hope Street Group’s new report, Teaming Up. One of our very own New York Fellows, Amanda Zullo, was featured on the program’s panel!

I believe it is is important that ALL of our students receive an equitable education, which is why it is necessary that we have amazing educators in ALL classrooms. It is important that veteran educators take time to mentor new teachers in order to truly help elevate the teaching profession. It takes a team effort to continue to grow and develop excellent educators and there is so much that can be learned through partnership and collaboration.

I asked some of our Fellows to share their ideas about teacher preparation and retention, by responding to the following questions:

1. What do you think a successful teacher preparation and retention program should look like?

Mentoring new teachers through the transition between student teaching and full time teaching.
— Tammie Schrader, Alumni Fellow (WA)
Highly qualified teachers assigned 1:1 to new teachers through their first THREE years, providing not only support on the art and craft of teaching, but moral support, too. I would love to see more residency style prep programs in place in NYS, and revamp the onerous EdTPA program, so that it is part of the permanent cert process, not initial. Students need more than experience (and exposure) to really be qualified.
— Chris Dolgos, Alumni Fellow (NY)
I feel that we should be moving towards residency programs where pre-teachers really become part of a school from start to finish of a year.
— Heather Gauck, Current Lead Fellow
Teacher preparation programs need to have a year long internship much like a doctor. This needs to be a paid internship where folks can work and live while they are truly learning the craft of teaching.
— Craig Williams, Alumni Fellow (WY)
I believe the first step in creating more effective teacher preparation programming is to start by treating the training more like the first years of teaching. We all know those are the toughest years with the most tears and the most stress for new teachers. Why not create a system where student teaching hours become part of a teacher’s career path? Teacher-training programs require student teaching practice and while there are varied approaches toward that end, student teachers are required to take on many tasks and classroom roles during and outside of school hours. Time that for some is too much of a financial strain. I think it would be a strong incentive to support these “educator internships” with pay or work credit on top of the obvious benefit of real-life experience. There is a movement to support paraprofessionals as they earn credits towards becoming classroom teachers and it makes sense to extend that same support to new members of our profession. In terms of retaining top teachers, there’s not one perfect solution, but in the same mentality of supporting new teachers and classroom assistants, offering professional opportunities that actually elevate veteran teachers and honor our craft makes the most sense. Please don’t confuse that with merit-base pay; the intention is to help teachers find opportunities to shine at what they do best, from writing blogs, books or giving lectures to taking on various roles in the education world, including entering leadership or political positions. The most frequent conversation I have with other teachers is the desire for respect from those who simply don’t understand what we do all day.
— Sara Garro, Current NY Fellow
Teacher preparation needs to operate more like an internship than an extended visit to a school. Pre-service teachers need to experience the highs and lows of teaching before they are the teacher of record. I was in an innovative program that allowed me to spend an entire school year teaching (w/support), and it made me confident that I could handle anything.
— Amber Chandler, Current Lead Fellow
It must involve many different stakeholders. Colleges and universities need strong partnerships with local school districts in order to be able to place their candidates appropriately. I believe that all teacher education programs should have practicums in different environments. All future teachers should have to spend time in a high needs area as well as a suburban one to get a sense of differences and similarities. The more practicum experience required throughout the program, the better.
— Meg Freeman, Current Lead Fellow
Successful teacher preparation and retention are two different forms of programming, but effective teacher preparation can certainly have a byproduct of better retention. Teacher preparation should be started at the collegial level, as early as possible with as much classroom observation and practicum experience that time allows. Student teaching should never be an option, and students should be paired with teachers that have a heart for mentorship. Peer teaching needs to start right away, before the student teaching experience to give the student time to prepare and confidence to grow from peer and teacher criticism. Additionally, videos of best practices in the classroom should be viewed, units should be planned in teams and individually, and real-life situations should be discussed. In my experience, what encourages teachers to leave the profession isn’t necessarily the classroom experience, rather the situations that come up unexpectedly. For example, a mock parent conference, mock teacher-teacher conversation that is heated, or mock teacher-administrator conversation would be incredibly helpful.
— Loryn Windwehen, Current Lead Fellow

2. What resources are needed to implement an effective teacher mentorship program?

Mentor teachers and funding to pay for both the mentor and the mentee for their time.
— Tammie Schrader, Alumni Fellow (WA)
Commitment and release time (and stipends don’t hurt!) for experienced and qualified teachers to work with new hires. Ideally, within a building so the culture of professionalism can be imbued within the relationship. Providing regular meeting, observation, and reflection times is imperative for new teachers to see growth over time.
— Chris Dolgos, Alumni Fellow (NY)
Higher Ed agencies should have programs housed in local schools to build that pipeline of mentorship.
— Heather Gauck, Current Lead Fellow
Money and knowledgeable professionals
— Craig Williams, Alumni Fellow (WY)
I think the best way to achieve effective mentorship programming is to work together from the start. What if teacher training programs were partnered with school districts? New teachers or those changing education careers would have clear support in real schools. Veteran teachers would already know what tools those student teachers were entering the classroom with or at least have more than a paragraph’s worth of information about said program. Veteran teachers would get more mentoring training as well. We would need time to plan and connect with each other, and obviously a source of funding.
— Sara Garro, Current NY Fellow
Teachers must be given time and compensation for mentoring. An effective mentor/mentee relationship can not happen between classes or a 20 min meeting. There should be dedicated time and resources, and a coordinator for each district who is a strong teacher advocate.
— Amber Chandler, Current Lead Fellow
There needs to be support from the state level. One idea that has been discussed in New Jersey is allowing mentor teachers to be exempt from an evaluation and student growth objectives, so that they can use the year to really prepare the teacher that they are working with. These teachers would have to be highly effective in order to mentor a teacher candidate.
— Meg Freeman, Current Lead Fellow
First, you need a mentor that has the desire to do it. In most cases, mentors are assigned based on the notion that “they’d be a good mentor, they’re a good teacher and they’ve done it before,” when administrators might not be aware of personal or professional obligations that prevent them from being defaulted in this role. Mentors should be trained, asked, and given incentives for doing so. By incentives, I mean they should be paid. With this, a short application for mentorship as well as a face to face conversation should be held prior to selection. Trainings of situational roles should be provided in a group setting, and basic classroom management should always be at the forefront of the priorities.
— Loryn Windwehen, Current Lead Fellow

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