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Teachers Training Teachers

How mentoring retains educators

By Dina Weinstein, Richmond Magazine

Monday, Oct. 2, 2017

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Good mentoring is “how you keep teachers,” insists Kate Cassada, director of the University of Richmond’s Graduate Program of Education Leadership and Policy studies. “All divisions are striving to make mentoring stick.”

Parents and school divisions hope new teachers hired over the summer will stay in their positions for the long haul, and a key to retention is support.

“Regionally, every [school] division has a formal mentoring process in place, Cassada says. “Each new teacher is assigned a mentor and staff new to a building is assigned a partner to explain ‘Here’s how to find things.’ Ideally, it’s at least for three years but realistically it’s one year.

Cassada, a former classroom teacher and principal, says mentoring should cover how to design an effective lesson and how to manage a classroom.

"We use an intensive model to mentor beginning teachers.”
– Dr. Therese Dozier

The Richmond Public Schools’ Professional Development department facilitates a program where mentors, new teachers, career coaches, student teachers and area college faculty meet during ongoing monthly workshops, officials said.

In Hanover schools, every new, first-year teacher is assigned a mentor, typically another teacher who teaches the same grade or content level.

Virginia Commonwealth University’s Richmond Teacher Residency programs (RTR) offers a more structured program than do the school divisions. It is also designed to address the problem of “poor and minority students consistently get[ting] the least prepared, least experienced students.”

“We use an intensive model to mentor beginning teachers,” says Therese Dozier, director of VCU’s Center for Teacher Leadership.

The intensive one-year master’s degree program includes a summer of fast-track graduate level education courses and a year-long, intensive, co-teaching placement alongside a senior teacher. Thirty-nine students are placed in area schools this year. Over the course of two subsequent years the fledgling educators get their own classroom but continue to be mentored.

Dozier says the key to the program’s success is the training and pay for mentors, which is grant-funded by the Virginia Department of Education.

VCU’s RTR shies away from the word mentor, instead calling the experienced co-teachers “clinical resident coaches.”

National statistics show 50 percent of teachers leave urban classrooms within three years, with many going to suburban districts. Dozier cites a 77 percent retention rate for VCU’s RTR graduates who have taught three years or more in Richmond Public Schools.

“It’s not just about weaknesses,” says Christal Corey, a seventh- and eighth-grade science teacher at T.C. Boushall Middle School in Richmond, who benefited from the VCU RTR program three years ago, went on to managing her own classroom and now acts as a coach as well as a department chair. “It’s about having accountability and learning how to build relationships with students, parents and teachers.”

Antoinette Rogers, the director of the Office of Teaching and Learning at the Virginia Education Association, says investment in new teachers and their students does not come cheaply. The educational advocacy organization is pushing for state legislation this year for increased funds for mentoring to ensure support and retention for the newest educators.

Richmond Magazine Story