I went to an event at AEI yesterday about the effect mentoring has had on the success of new teachers. Jonah Rockoff, economics and finance professor at Columbia, presented his findings on an evaluation of the $40 million NYC mentoring program. You can read more about Rockoff’s results here. Rockoff found slight increases in reading and math scores among teachers who were given more hours of mentoring. Teacher retention within a school was higher when the mentor previously worked in that particular school.
But though he found a strong connection between what teachers said about the quality of their mentor and success in their own classrooms, newbies with mentors were no more likely to remain in the profession on a long term basis. The tepid results drew a response from the panelists representing the UFT and AFT, who challenged that no statistics can match that of countless personal and professional examples they have either experienced in the classroom or seen while supporting those in the classroom. Unfortunately, they did not provide any hard data, only anecdotes. Indeed, there seemed to be a real lack of consensus among the panelists as to what mentoring really means. Thankfully, a woman finally stood up during the q and a and asked, “How are we defining mentoring?”
This is the exact question I contemplated this past year, as I finished my first year as a Teach for America 8th grade language arts teacher in Charlotte, NC. We’re often told that new teachers have little support, causing them to leave the field within three years, but in my experience, I was overwhelmed with those looking to pass on wisdom, encouragement, and advice. Four different mentors seemed to have four different ideas as to their obligations and role as a support system. I found myself confused and uncertain of their purpose, but confident that the vagueness and excess support was stressing me out! Were we to meet sporadically and informally to discuss upcoming lessons, troubleshoot for the problem-child, and lament the newfound struggle to multitask, or was this a formal, regular meeting to evaluate my strategy and skillfulness or lack thereof?
If the purpose of mentoring is to provide support in order to keep good teachers and make them better, then the responsibility of a mentor must be clear to both parties involved. When there are numerous goals and assorted models of mentoring, it is clear that we need to find “a best practice” in carrying out these programs. Mentoring is one of those good ideas in theory, but is far more complicated than it seems. Until we really understand what we are-and aren’t-trying to accomplish with mentoring programs, it is likely that like the NYC program, we will not accomplish much.
- Posted by Laura Guarino