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July 5, 2013

Mentors Help New Teachers Reach Success in the Classroom

Watch Mentorship for New Educators Helps Combat Teacher Burnout on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

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For years, teachers have been leaving their classroom jobs at an alarming rate. While burnout increases and teacher exit rates reach into the hundreds of thousands, a nonprofit organization called New Teacher Center is combating the high turnover rates by mentoring new teachers.

One of these teachers is Abby Miller, a third grade teacher at Sumner Elementary School on Chicago’s West Side. It has been a tough year for the Chicago Public School District as a whole, including a strike over a bitter dispute over teacher wages and the city’s controversial decision to close more the 50 elementary schools next year.

Amidst all the very public disruptions, about 100 Chicago public schools suffer from chronically high rates of teacher turnover, losing a quarter or more of their teaching staff every year. As a result, there are thousands of new teachers, like Miller, who are trying to take charge of a classroom for the first time.

Her experience of trial by fire in the classroom is increasingly common. A recent national study found that the teaching work force is getting younger and less experienced, in part because more than 300,000 veteran teachers left the work force for retirement between 2004 and 2008.

At the core of the crisis, the experts say, are first-year teachers who are particularly vulnerable when it comes to buckling under the pressures and frustrations they are sometimes ill-prepared to face once they enter their classroom.

To combat that, Ellen Moir of University of California, Santa Cruz founded the New Teacher Center, a nonprofit educational organization that focuses on first-year teacher mentoring and development led by skilled veteran teachers. New Teacher Center mentors meet regularly with other expert teachers to discuss protocols for supporting their first-year teachers. They partner with school districts and educators in order to help implement the best practices for new teacher induction.

“It’s a great idea and it’s super successful,” says Moir. “We’re easily upping retention by 20 percent in the districts that we’re working in,” she continues. “In the 24 largest — 24 of the largest urban districts, I mean, retention is up significantly.”

Using a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the New Teacher Center now plans to expand in Chicago with a focus on high-poverty schools.

Warm-Up questions

1. What is a mentor?

2. What is a non-profit organization?

3. What is a grant?

Discussion questions

1. Why do you think teachers care about having smaller class sizes?

2. What are some of the pressures of classroom teaching that might cause a teacher to leave that profession?

3. Have you ever had a favorite teacher? What did you enjoy most about his/her classes?

Do you think it’s a problem teachers are dropping out? Why/Why not?

— Compiled by Elizabeth Jones for NewsHour Extra

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