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Leadership Insights

“Mentors are critical supports in guiding new teachers”: Spotlight on NYC Dept. of Education

By Jennifer Gunn September 20, 2018

Serving over 1.1 million students in more than 1,800 public schools, the New York City Department of Education is the largest school district in the nation! With nearly 93,000 educators serving the city’s youth, and a constant flow of new teachers entering the district, New York City has built an impressive mentoring program that ensures that new teachers are well supported, well trained, and more likely to stay in the classroom. Read on to learn more about Concordia University-Portland’s district partner, the New York City Department of Education.

Mentoring program for beginning teachers

When teachers graduate from school with a bachelor’s degree and are hired within the NYC Department of Education, they are assigned a school-based mentor. When new teachers receive their state license, it’s what’s called an Initial Certificate. To obtain their Professional Certificate, teachers must:

  • Complete three years of teaching
  • Obtain a master’s degree
  • Attend a Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) workshop
  • Complete one year of in-service mentoring, which amounts to 40 hours across 10 months

Built-in time for mentorship

Mentors and their mentees have time integrated into their teaching schedules — about two periods a week — for mentoring meetings. Teachers work with their mentors regularly, engage in classroom visits, and review unit and lesson plans. These interactions are recorded in the city’s Mentor Tracking System (MTS), which verifies requirements have been met for the state’s licensing requirements.

Addressing the teacher shortage

Steven Gilroy, Teacher Development Specialist in the NYC DOE’s Teacher Development Office said that “In 2004, NYC was losing 50% of [their] teachers in the first four years on the job. The vast majority stated that the reason they left was that they did not receive support. Nationwide, we experience a teacher shortage. Salaries are low and conditions can be challenging — especially in urban areas.”

A 2017 Learning Policy Institute report finds that “90% of open teaching positions are created by teachers who leave the profession.” The report found that 2/3 of teachers leave for reasons other than retirement, primarily “due to dissatisfactions with teaching.” NYC DOE’s teacher mentor program helps connect new and veteran teachers to provide support and a stronger sense of community, which helps combat teacher burnout.

How mentorship helps beginning teachers

The Impact of Induction and Mentoring Programs for Beginning Teachers, a review of 15 empirical studies, found that the majority of beginning teachers who participated in an induction program performed better at various aspects of teaching, such as:

  • Keeping students engaged
  • Using effective student questioning strategies
  • Connecting classroom activities to students’ interests
  • Maintaining a positive classroom culture
  • Demonstrating successful classroom management skills

The review also found that teacher mentoring impacted student achievement, with nearly all studies demonstrating “that students of beginning teachers who participated in induction had higher scores, or gains, on academic achievement tests.”

Luis Echevarria, the NYC Department of Education’s deputy director, said that they’ve noticed a boost in employee morale. “New teachers feel supported due to the 1:1 interaction with their mentors including co-teaching activities, support in classroom management, and lesson planning assistance.”

How mentorship helps students

“The mentor’s overall role is to promote the growth and development of the beginning teacher to improve student learning,” says Sonya G. Brown, Teacher Development Specialist in the NYC Department of Education’s Teacher Development Office. “When new teachers are hired, they are given a full program and are expected to impact student learning immediately without the benefit of any period of apprenticeship. New teachers essentially have to learn how to teach while on the job. Mentors are critical supports in guiding new teachers to enhance their planning, instruction, and content knowledge.”

A mentorship can also lead to a more connected learning community, as Echevarria has noted in NYC. “Teacher mentors and mentees are more likely to be involved in before- and after-school activities with students, creating an increased level of interaction between the educators and students.”

Retaining beginning teachers through mentorship

In a longitudinal study, the National Center for Education Statistics discovered that “the percentage of beginning teachers who were currently teaching was consistently larger among those who were assigned a first-year mentor than among those not assigned a first-year mentor:

  • From 2008 – 2009:
    92% of beginning teachers who were assigned a mentor were teaching
    84% of beginning teachers who were not assigned a mentor were teaching
  • From 2009 – 2010:
    91% of beginning teachers who were assigned a mentor were teaching
    77% of beginning teachers who were not assigned a mentor were teaching
  • From 2010 – 2011:
    88% of beginning teachers who were assigned a mentor were teaching
    73% of beginning teachers who were not assigned a mentor were teaching
  • From 2011 – 2012:
    86% of beginning teachers who were assigned a mentor were teaching
    71% of beginning teachers who were not assigned a mentor were teaching

“Mentors help orient new teachers to the school community and to teaching in general. They also serve as collegial and emotional supports for this challenging phase of a teacher’s career,” Brown points out. Echevarria also added that they’ve seen a notable increase in teacher retention and that the NYC DOE “envisions continuing the program for the foreseeable future due to the initial successes and reception of the program.” Every teacher should feel supported, and in order for new teachers to thrive, a strong support system should be in place before they set foot in their first classroom.

NYC mentoring in action

Clemencia Acevedo, a special education teacher at PSMS 161, the Don Pedro Albizu Campos School in Manhattan, remembers her mentoring experience fondly. As a first-year middle school teacher in the Bronx, Acevedo was assigned a mentor to complete her required hours and to have a collaborative partner during her first year.

Acevedo’s mentor provided tips and suggestions for navigating her first year, planning her lessons, and managing her classroom. “[My mentor] supported me in my ongoing growth in leveling student reading levels, skills I still continue using in ELA classes. She was very welcoming and always encouraged me to ask her about anything or for anything I needed. The most important thing I appreciated was the feeling that there was someone I could go to if I needed something.”

Mentoring programs, especially in a district as vast as New York City, are a huge undertaking to manage. But providing new teachers with support is an invaluable means of assuring that teachers are advancing their practice and continuing to teach so that our students keep learning.

Interested in Concordia University-Portland’s district partnership program? Forming a district partnership with us gives your school district employees access to our accredited, online MEd and EdD programs with benefits — including thousands of dollars in scholarship opportunities.

Additional resources

Jennifer L.M. Gunn spent 10 years in newspaper and magazine publishing before moving to public education. She is a curriculum designer, a teaching coach, and high school educator in New York City. She is also co-founder of the annual EDxEDNYC Education Conference for teacher-led innovation and regularly presents at conferences on the topics of adolescent literacy, leadership, and education innovation.

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