Teacher attrition is an ongoing issue for American schools—a 2015 study found that approximately 17 percent percent of educators leave the profession in their first five years of teaching. Over the past few decades, researchers have studied attrition and whether teacher induction programs can help develop and retain novice teachers. These programs, which tend to last for one year, focus on orienting staff to school culture, include the support of a veteran mentor teacher, and offer novice-specific professional development.
Yet teachers are still leaving. Can these programs be improved?
Most educators would argue that no teacher is an expert after just one year of teaching. In my district, in Robbinsville, New Jersey, we believe that novices should receive induction support throughout the four-year tenure process. This length of time provides new hires with opportunities to develop mastery experiences; engage in sustained, job-embedded professional development; cultivate relationships with other novices; receive non-evaluative feedback from administrators and peers; and acquire confidence.
Research has shown that these factors can help reduce teacher attrition, and they cannot all be accomplished within just one year of induction.
Our Multiyear Induction Program
Year 1 of our program begins with new teachers having mentors in the same grade level or content area. The novices attend a three-day summer orientation to learn about the district’s goals for student learning and begin fostering relationships with other cohort members.
Throughout the school year, they attend five after-school meetings with their mentors. These meetings focus on fundamentals such as parent communication, differentiated instruction, classroom management, and work-life balance, as well as reflection and goal setting. Each year we survey the teachers to ensure that the topics remain relevant to their needs.
In Year 2, our novices attend five after-school meetings with their fellow cohort members, but they no longer have an official mentor teacher who accompanies them. The focus of these meetings is on instruction, with teachers having simple homework between the bimonthly meetings to try a given strategy or instructional model. Topics include questioning and discussion techniques (e.g., Socratic seminars), educational technology, and assessing “soft skills” such as emotional intelligence and resilience. There is also a session on reflection and goal setting.
In Year 3, we aim to really encourage practitioners to become reflective about their teaching. Novices attend three after-school meetings and are asked to conduct action research about a problem of practice that they’re passionate about (e.g., helping students stay in the target language in Spanish class, promoting equity in student discussions, incorporating student self-reflection practices, or embedding social and emotional learning strategies).
Teachers are assigned an administrator mentor to guide them through this process. At the final meeting, teachers share and celebrate their work with other cohort members, Year 2 teachers, and administrators.
Finally, during Year 4, novices attend three after-school meetings with their cohort and are asked to contribute to the profession by sharing their action research with a greater audience. The curriculum department works closely with the teachers to establish a plan that suits their interests and comfort levels.
Teachers have presented at PTA meetings, hosted parent nights, led Twitter chats, facilitated professional learning communities, planned department meetings, presented professional development sessions, run coaching cycles for their colleagues, and more. At their last meeting, Year 4 teachers share advice with Year 3 teachers and reflect on teacher leadership as well as their experiences in the program.
Focus groups and anonymous surveys of novices who have participated in the four-year program have indicated that teachers believe this model helped them develop confidence, effective classroom practices, leadership skills, and stronger relationships with their colleagues and administrators. Teachers also reported that these feelings of confidence and community made them want to remain in the profession and within our school district—and our attrition rate for teachers in the program is about 3 percent a year. Most of those teachers are changing schools for various reasons, not leaving the profession.
A Serious Time Commitment
Admittedly, a four-year model takes a lot of time and resources to run—our curriculum department facilitates every meeting, and teachers must participate in all four years’ worth of activities. Yet though many novices have acknowledged that this program requires much more of a time commitment than a traditional model, they have also said that they felt invested in teaching and much more competent because of the strategies they had learned throughout the program.
Novice teachers need assistance and guidance as they enter the profession. Induction programs attempt to provide this support, yet most school districts offer only one year of induction when it takes years for educators to develop confidence and instructional competence.
It’s important to consider the trajectory of teachers beyond Year 1 and how induction can be better designed to support novices throughout the formative years of their career. A multiyear model like the one we have in Robbinsville can begin to address novices’ needs and help us retain confident, competent educators who contribute to the profession.