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Addressing the Teacher Shortage Series: Start a robust teacher mentorship program

By Janiel Slowly, Education Pioneer Fellow at Good Reason Houston

Learn more about Ed Pioneer fellowships and their work with education careers here

The state of teacher workforce 

Teacher retention refers to the rate at which teachers return to their positions year after year (National Center for Educational Statistics). Teacher retention impacts things like long-term school culture and community stability, it can foster institutional knowledge on a campus, and it is a cost-effective solution to tackling the teacher shortage crisis. 

Additionally, Texas principal tenure has massive implications on teacher retention, the quality of teachers hired, and eventually, student experience and performance. In a study published in May of 2022, researchers analyzed the impact of principal tenure among over 10,000 Texas principals from 1999 to 2017. 

Researchers found that it takes about five years for principals to finely tune their teacher hiring practices. However, on average, Texas principals typically don’t remain in their positions over four years, thus missing an opportunity to hire high-quality teachers who stay in their positions over three years

The data is staggering: In December of 2022, teacher turnover, which usually averages about 16% nationwide, saw a spike from 25% to 54%, as educators are considering leaving the profession. Meanwhile, the US Department of Educationreported teacher shortages across all 50 states in most subject areas, primarily in schools with a significant percentage of students with racialized identities. 

Identifying effective recruitment strategies 

Recruitment efforts are costly, reactive, and require mostly short-term strategies to yield outcomes. Many recruitment strategies are designed to appeal to potential teachers’ wallets. States like New Jersey have already begun to see improvements in the number of teachers hired using this strategy: “NJ district with $7,500 signing bonuses has hired 115 teachers in 11 weeks.” Federally, the Biden administration distributed millions in ESSER funds, much of which was used by school systems to sweeten the pot for potential teachers to enter the field. 

Competition is steep in the race to attract potential teachers: nationwide, districts are weaving a variety of attractive financial incentives and the starting costs are high to even begin to compete. Supporting dedicated teachers is an accessible pathway toward fully staffed schools and cultivating empowering learning environments for students.

Retention efforts also require sustainable, culture-focused solutions to yield long-term results. While there are multiple strategies to improve teacher attrition on campuses, research shows that teacher mentorship has a significant impact on teacher retention.

How teacher mentorship improves retention

In order to successfully address retention, districts must orient toward providing mentorship opportunities for novice teachers. In a study published by Education Week, teachers are observed to leave the field at much faster rates without adequate mentorship opportunities. 

As it stands, Texas does not have any state policy requiring mentorship for novice teachers. This is a relatively approachable avenue for Texans to leverage and begin to institutionalize adequate support systems for public education’s most valuable assets: teachers. 

The states that are implementing mentorship mandates

To start, the city of Philadelphia mandates schools to submit a plan of two-year induction for all first-year teachers under state legislation, the same for the city of Chicago, which under Illinois legislature, mandates schools to develop a program or mentorship for first- and second-year teachers. 

The same goes for Columbus, Ohio, who recently updated its four-year teacher residency program to a two-year residency program. However, of all six of Houston’s closest neighbors across socioeconomic or cultural lines, (ChicagoColumbusJacksonvilleOklahoma CityPhiladelphia and Phoenix) only three of their respective states have specified state policy ensuring at least a two-year mentorship program for novice teachers. This is compared to all six cities that offer some type of financial incentive to recruit new teachers to the profession in 2022 alone.

It is clear that implementing mentorship for novice teachers across Houston will require state-wide buy-in as well as formal legislative practices. Where districts can individually decide to bolster their recruitment efforts through bonus, the state is an effective authority that can draft laws, hold districts accountable, and support their efforts to develop programs for new teachers. 

Furthermore, within the parameters of each mentorship program, districts must compensate mentor-teachers and provide the space and time for mentors and mentees to share instructional strategies and strengthen their relationship. Some cities have played with some combination of a reduced workload or financial compensation or both for mentor-teachers.

Good Reason Houston has conducted research over several weeks to identify the diverse approaches cities like Houston have implemented to introduce new teachers to mentorship opportunities. Whether the similarities lie in average household or individual income, city population, poverty rate or racial breakdown, each city’s example presents a creative method that districts in Houston can implement with respect to their communities’ particular socio-economic and cultural features. 

Four actionable steps districts can take to develop their own mentorship program: 

Step 1: Gather data

Timely feedback should be collected through surveys, focus groups, one-on-one interviews, etc. with novice  teachers about the common challenges and trends observed when adjusting to their first 1-3 years of teaching.

Step 2: Create peer-reviewed measurements of success

School systems must create a structure by engaging all stakeholders. Consensus among school leaders and experienced teachers about what an effective mentor/mentee relationship should look, feel, and sound like.

  • Example questions: How will the effectiveness of the mentorship program be measured?

Step 3: Provide mentor training

School systems must: offer training to ensure that mentors are able to orient toward successfully identifying opportunities for growth for novice teachers; provide critical feedback with respect to the teachers’ strengths and sensitivities; and establish and communicate expectations.

Step 4: Take administrative action to create space and time for mentorship

Administrative measures should be taken so mentors and mentees have time and space to trade instructional knowledge, offer emotional support, and more. Additionally, school leadership must initiate a systemized structure to compensate mentor teachers for their time. 

  • Potential incentives to explore: reduced workload, financial compensation, etc.

Good Reason Houston is proud to partner with Education Pioneers. Education Pioneer Fellowships provide exceptional professionals opportunities in education leadership careers that solve problems outside the classroom so that teachers and students can succeed inside the classroom. This blog is written by Janiel Slowly, one of Good Reason Houston’s Education Pioneer Impact Fellows who supports Good Reason Houston’s talent initiatives.

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