Here's a distressing statistic: Nearly half of new teachers quit within the first five years. It doesn't have to be like that. The best way to keep young and inexperienced teachers excited about their jobs during those trying first years is to pair them with veteran educators who know the ropes.
The traditional method of on-site mentoring, however, is faulty. Typical programs pair preservice trainees with "cooperating teachers," while first-year novices receive "mentor partners." Often, the success of these programs depends on the time, patience, skill, and personality traits possessed by the veteran teacher -- and on the willingness of a novice to show vulnerability to someone who may be judging them.
But there are other ways. Online communities like Middle Web, the Teacher Leaders Network (TLN), and the Teachers Network expand traditional new-teacher support by bringing novice and expert educators together in a Web-based professional community. The online mentorship gives novice teachers access to a sizeable group of accomplished practitioners. At the same time, it provides teacher leaders with a chance to strengthen the profession at its roots.
A core problem frequently addressed is the shock new teachers feel when they first enter the classroom. Often they are assigned to the highest-need students in the most challenging schools. Only ready access to practical ideas about classroom management, discipline, and effective teaching strategies determines whether they survive those first critical years.
In the emerging TLN mentoring model, for instance, novices have daily access to a sounding board of experienced colleagues who share stories from their own early struggles as well as offer advice fresh picked from the classroom. These relationships can result in higher job satisfaction and retention rates for beginning teachers.
For preservice teacher Katrina Traub, the opportunity to engage daily with accomplished teachers "provided a diversity that opens your eyes to different ways of teaching and allows you to incorporate fresh ideas that you might have never been exposed to otherwise."
Mentees also share experiences and new insights with one another. "I was immediately welcomed into a community of peers," recalls Elizabeth Sanger, another preservice teacher, "who were all going through the same trials and tribulations."
Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach is a doctoral student and teacher in the School of Education at the College of William and Mary. She is a senior fellow of the Teacher Leaders Network.