"Lifeline for New Teachers Proposed"

By Stephanie Banchero, Chicago Tribune Staff Writer, August 24, 2000

With research showing that half of all new teachers get discouraged and leave the profession within five years, the Illinois State Board of Education said Wednesday it is developing a plan to require every school district in the state to provide an intensive, four-year mentoring program for novice teachers.

The proposal, which needs legislative approval, would mandate that every new teacher in Illinois participate in a mentoring-induction program, attend state-approved professional development seminars and compile an analysis of their career development during their first three years on the job. It also would require formal training for local school district administrators and for the veteran teachers selected as mentors.

State officials estimate that about two-thirds of Illinois' 896 school districts provide some type of a mentoring for rookie teachers. But the vast majority of the offerings are buddy programs or brief orientation sessions in which beginning educators get acquainted with their veteran counterparts, go over curriculum and find out such mundane things as where the schools' bathrooms are located. The state board's new venture, announced at a Wednesday meeting, would prescribe a more exhaustive program that provides a mentor for each new teacher and ensures continuing formal training to improve classroom skills. Illinois is one of only 13 states that do not yet require an induction program for neophyte teachers.

State education officials have not put a price on the initiative, but they acknowledge it could be costly for the state and the school districts, which will have to share the cost. "I am concerned about the funding issue because I know this is a serious and expensive proposition, and I fully realize that there are competing demands for a limited amount of money," said state schools Supt. Max McGee. "But we are framing this as an investment in our future. We are going to have a very serious statewide teacher shortage in the next four years, and we need to plan now by doing all we can to keep caring and qualified teachers in every classroom."

But forcing school districts to institute a new program may not sit well with administrators and school board members who are weary of giving up local control. Walter Warfield, executive director of the Illinois Association of School Administrators, said his group supports mentor programs, but he balked at the proposed funding procedure. "We have continually said, `No state mandates without full funding.' Anything short of that will drive money away from the school districts' other programs that are already hurting," he said. "If the state board mandates it, we expect the state board to pay for it."

State board officials plan to seek legislative approval for the initiative in 2001 and implement it in every school district by fall 2002. Mentoring programs have become fashionable with educators across the country who are desperately trying to stem the high attrition rate of novice teachers. Research has shown that nearly 50 percent of teachers leave the field within the first five years, complaining of low pay, lack of parental and administrative support, unruly students, and overwhelming paperwork. As states have implemented formal mentoring programs, the attrition rate seems to be slowing. "A good induction program improves the climate for teaching and learning, helps keep young, impressionable teachers in the field and helps eliminate unfit teachers," said Mildred Hudson, who heads Recruiting New Teachers Inc., a non-profit Massachusetts group that works to seek and retain teachers. "But the key here is you've got to create a program that is funded and a program where the content is as important as the time spent in it."

Mike Long, who oversees teacher preparation for the state board, said the board's proposal targets those two issues.

Many Chicago-area school districts, including Chicago Public Schools, have instituted formal mentoring programs. Sandy Miller, an assistant principal in Batavia School District 101, said her district launched an intensive program this year because it knew the state was working on a formal plan. "We wanted to be ahead of the curve. But more important, we know that any program that helps young teachers learn the profession and helps them feel more comfortable in the classroom will translate into a better education for our students," Miller said.

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