Mentorship Program Created To Keep New Teachers In The Classroom

Thirty percent don't make it through the third year. Nearly 50 percent leave after five years.

Teaching is a challenging business, but keeping teachers in the classroom may be a bigger challenge. In record numbers, teachers across the United States are leaving the stress of the classroom behind.

In an effort to keep qualified teachers in the classroom, Columbus State University's College of Education has developed a unique mentoring program that will provide support for new teachers who have graduated from CSU and who have been hired within the university's Partner School Network. The program has been named STEADY, Sustained Teacher Education Advisement for the Defining Years.

'Our goal is to extend the reach of our highly successful teacher education program,' said Roger Hatcher, coordinator for CSU's Partner School Network. 'The stress, pressure and loneliness some teachers face can be overwhelming. This is particularly true for first year teachers. We believe our mentoring program will be an invaluable resource for these new teachers.'

The STEADY project is the result of a five-year grant by the Knight Foundation and is aimed at CSU graduates who are in their first year of teaching. This five-year project is expected to reach approximately 200 teachers and will serve as a model, transferrable to other colleges in the state and in the region. CSU's Partner School Network includes the Chattahoochee County School System, Fort Benning Dependent Schools, the Harris County School System, the Muscogee County School District, Pacelli High School, Phenix City (Al.) Public Schools and St. Anne School.

According to Hatcher, CSU's program will provide essential,front-line professional support for CSU graduates in their first and second year of teaching. There will be a toll-free hotline providing confidential, immediate advice; access to an on-campus consultant who will visit these teachers twice a year; Best Practices master teachers; and a chat room where new teachers can discuss the problems and pressures of teaching with their peers.

'These teachers need a variety of support venues,' Hatcher said 'It's difficult for many of these first-year teachers to find someone they can go to when problems arise.'

Molly Hart, assistant principle at Clubview Elementary in Columbus, echoed Hatcher.

'The transition from college to the teaching world can be very difficult for first-year teachers,' said Hart. 'They need to be able to discuss the difficulties they face with someone outside of the administration they work under. Having access to a mentor can help these first-year teachers turn their classroom time into a positive experience.'

'We want to see our graduates succeed but for a mentor relationship to work, teachers must be able to speak freely to someone not in a position of authority,' Hatcher said.

The National Education Association also supports this experience and believes there is a connection between support in the first year and teachers leaving the profession. Their studies show that a helpful mentor significantly reduces the chances of quitting in the first year, and as new teachers utilize mentoring programs, first-year attrition drops.

'It is our goal to keep our graduates teaching. Being able to access a mentor during those first couple of years will have a very positive influence on these teachers,' Hatcher said.

Hatcher said mentoring programs such as the one CSU offers requires extensive investments of time, training and support, but is dependent upon teacher participation.

As new teachers participate in a mentoring program, sources indicate there is a much better chance these teachers will remain in their profession.

'Although the exodus of teachers leaving their professions is nothing short of catastrophic, a well planned mentoring program, such as CSU's, helps keep them teaching,' Hatcher said. 'If we can create a positive experience in those first two years, we believe teachers will continue to teach and make long-term commitments to their profession.'

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Contact: Roger Hatcher, 568-2212; E-mail: hatcher_roger@ColumbusState.edu