Read this fascinating article by Melissa Bailey about STEM education in New Haven, Connecticut, and the US here at the New Haven Independent.
New Haven’s public schools have tapped two new “teacher mentors” to help 18 newly hired science teachers, as part of an effort to stop science teachers from leaving the system in droves.
Richard Therrien, the school system’s science supervisor, outlined the problem—and introduced two new people aiming to help fix it—at an orientation session for new science teachers at Hill Regional Career High.
This year, 18 of 120 science teachers are new to the district—the highest number in five years, according to Therrien.
Teacher turnover among science teachers has remained high in New Haven, reflecting a national challenge that’s particularly acute in urban districts. New Haven is beginning to examine the problem and look for solutions as part of a $53 million federally backed effort to improve the way it develops and retains teachers.
---Therrien has been battling attrition for years. This year, he offered a new solution: “teacher mentors” whose sole job will be to support new science teachers. The mentors, Matthew Erickson of Edgewood School and Lana Rowan of Wilbur Cross High (pictured), introduced themselves Thursday to the group.
“I’m your resource,” Erickson said.
Rowan will spend a lot of time helping six new teachers at Cross. Erickson will focus on middle school. They’ll be available to take phone calls, help teachers plan lessons, or even help out in a struggling teacher’s classroom for a week. The new “mentor” jobs are being paid for through the $53 million federal Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) grant, which aims in part to create new ways for teachers to take leadership roles without leaving the classroom to be administrators. Rowan and Erickson won’t grade their mentees through the formal teacher evaluations; they’ll only support them.
As part of the $53 million plan, New Haven will begin studying exactly which teachers are leaving city schools, and why. The district plans to start issuing exit polls to departing teachers, according to New Haven teachers union President David Cicarella.
The mentoring duo gave out their cell phone numbers before rushing back to teacher leadership boot camp at the Yale Law School, also paid for by TIF.
Therrien said new science teachers they’re helping can feel isolated: One new teacher, for example, will be the only person teaching physics at Wilbur Cross. He hopes the extra support helps teachers make it past the two-year mark, which so many have failed to do.
If the new mentors succeed at their job, he said, they’ll eliminate the need for the job, because teachers will stay on with the district, eliminating the need for newcomers.
A school “is not a factory. It should be more like a family. If you’ve got teachers coming out every year in large numbers, that’s disruptive,” [Richard M. Ingersoll, a professor at the University of Penn Graduate School of Education] argued.
High turnover also has a ripple effect across a school that hurts student learning, argues Susanna Loeb of the Stanford Graduate School of Education. Loeb and colleagues conducted 850,000 observations of students in the 4th and 5th grades of New York City schools over the course of eight years. They found that a school’s teacher turnover rate was a significant factor —about as significant factor as poverty—hurting student test scores.
Ingersoll said bringing in mentors, as New Haven is doing, is a good start to addressing the problem. “Its a big need,” he said. Science teachers in particular get so much training in subject knowledge that they have less preparation on how to teach. For 40 percent of science teachers across the country, Ingersoll said, “Day 1 was the first day they had taught teenagers.”
Cody, the former Oakland teacher, created a mentoring program there to address a high churn of science teachers in a small, 10-person department. The program paired experienced science teachers with rookies, built a “family” feeling within the department, and cut turnover to zero, he said.
Ingersoll said his research backs up the notion that mentoring works. It’s “very important to have had some support, some mentoring, some collaboration time” with other teachers. “Those teachers who get that are much more likely to stick around.”Therrien said he’s hopeful about the year ahead: “We had a great group of applicants this summer, especially in middle school and certain subjects, more than usual, so I remain very optimistic about the potential of those 18 teachers to really help students learn science.”