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A New Approach to First-Year Teacher Mentorship

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Nearly one in 10 teachers quit the profession after their first year and nearly one in three quit before their sixth school year.

Research shows high turnover rates, in addition to causing headaches for district HR administrators, negatively impact student achievement. A recent study by the Learning Policy Institute shows that if a teacher receives mentoring, collaboration, and extra resources, and is part of a strong teacher network, first-year turnover is cut by more than half. Unfortunately, just three percent of beginning teachers reported receiving such comprehensive support.

Denver Public Schools

Denver Public Schools is experimenting with a new approach to first-year teacher mentorship. The district’s goal is that teachers new to the profession will first spend time training in a high-poverty school within the district as an associate teacher. The district has labeled seven high-poverty schools as “teaching academies” that will serve as training grounds for new teachers.

An associate teacher will already be licensed and able to teach on their own. They may also be part of a program like Teach for America, which has participants teach full-time while earning their certification.

The associate teachers will be paid slightly less than regular first-year teachers. They will be teaching on their own for the first time, but only for three periods a day rather than the full five periods they would have otherwise as a first-year teacher. The associate teachers will spend the rest of their time planning, observing other teachers, attending training sessions, and getting advice and feedback from mentors.

Will It Work?

Whether the program will lead to student success and teacher retention is still to be realized, but the decision to invest in the development of first-year teachers seems like common sense and is more in line with what is found in other professions. A principal at one of the identified teaching academies hopes that the experience will get first-year teachers out of a “day-to-day survival mode” and into a frame of mind that’s healthier, more sustainable, and more conducive to learning on the job.

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