13 May 2006

Mentoring n00bs

Part of my job three months from now will be organizing a program to mentor teachers new to the profession...that is, if we hire any. I'm doing a bit of reading and came across this quote from Fran McDonal's Study of Induction Programs for Beginning Teachers:
"It is a truism among teachers and especially teacher educators that within the first six months of the first experience of teaching, the teacher will have adopted his or her basic teaching style. Experience indicates that once a teacher's basic teaching style has stabilized, it remains in that form until some other event causes a change, and at the present time, there are not many such events producing change. If the style adapted is a highly effective one and is the source of stimulation and continuous growth, there would be no probem. But if teachers abandon their ideals and become cynical, see management at any price as essential, constrict the range of instruction
alternatives they will try or use; if they become mediocre teachers or minimally competent, then the effect of the transition period on this is a major concern and a problem that needs direct attention."

This quote generates a lot of questions for me. Are there any data to support these "truisms"? Does a strong teacher induction program (i.e. mentoring) really have that strong of an influence on what happens during the first six months? What sorts of "changes" help those who are set in their ways adopt a new style of classroom teaching?

When I think about my time at my current school, there haven't been many brand new teachers. It's been a really long time since I've had any conversations with newbies or thought about what tools teacher education programs are putting in their hands. Are today's teachers any better to prepared the challenges of standards-based education for all students than I was fresh out of college? I really hope the answer is "yes," but I also feel like most of what you learn about teaching happens when you finally have a classroom of your own. It's on-the-job training and somehow, I have to find my own way to support that.

Of course, most of our new teachers these days are not new to adulthood. Many of them have chosen teaching as a second career and will have a wealth of life experience to bring to the table.

I meet with the current coordinator of the mentor program on Tuesday. I know she'll have a lot to share and we'll see what I can do to make things my own. Hopefully, I'll be able to model some flexibility and "continuous growth" in this new role.


Anonymous said...

Six months? She's got to be joking. I still don't think my teaching style is solidified, and I'm almost done with my 3rd year. Maybe I have just had a bunch of "causes" for change...though I find that unlikely.

I will say, though, that I started off with kind of a sarcastic and--I like to think--creative style, and that much has remained consistent. (I'm not nasty sarcastic--I kid to let them know that I'm paying attention to them, and it seems to build rapport.) But even after the 1st 6 months? I've become increasingly organized, increasingly methodical in my strategies, and I have vacillated semester to semester on management policies..."stabilized"?

I don't think so.

The Science Goddess said...

Perhaps the quote goes along with another "truism" that people tend to teach they way they've been taught. But I do see both kinds of teachers out there---ones like you that are continually learning and adjusting...and others who have their binders full of notes for the overhead that they pull out each day. Maybe it gets back to that idea of what happens in the classroom as either being about the kids or the teacher.

I think the first year of teaching is really about "survival," and that there's not a lot of opportunity for focus on instruction and reflection until the next year. We'll see what my baby teachers think in the fall.