Teacher Mentor Program Increasing Retention in Tucson Unified School District
Tucson, AZ | Submitted by Stephanie Boe
What started as a pilot program a decade ago with five team members has grown to a team of 18 professional teacher mentors who are dedicated to helping new teachers adjust to their roles and responsibilities. It all started because the team at Tucson Unified School District knew that to retain teachers, and to make them the most effective educators possible, they would need a support team.
Every first and second-year teacher in the district, including long-term subs, is partnered with a mentor who works directly with them to identify the educator’s needs, provide a sounding board for challenges, and help with planning. For a new teacher, having a seasoned professional to lean on can make the difference between staying at the school and leaving the profession. That’s a big difference since as many two out of five educators leave teaching within three years of entering the profession. The mentor dedicates 90 minutes every week to each teacher and even coordinates with the school principals to understand the school’s goals and unique programs.
An effective teacher is one of the most important factors in a child’s success, and the team at Tucson Unified understood that schools all over Arizona are losing too many teachers after only a year or two in the profession, which isn’t long enough to become the best at what they do. Departures of younger teachers, coupled with a large number of educators who are nearing retirement, will compound the current shortage. Professional development and individual support will go a long way to keeping people in the classroom.
And the effort is already making a difference. During the 2016-17 school year, nearly 300 teachers took part, and two out of three said that having a mentor influenced their decision to remain in the district. What’s more, four out of five said that it was effective or very effective in supporting their growth as an educator.
The individual feedback is even more telling:
- “TUSD’s New Teacher Mentor Program supports new teachers to become teacher leaders on their school campuses. Teachers receive differentiated mentoring by having their individual teaching needs met. Mentors assist the teachers in navigating the district’s curriculum, student data system, and the district’s code of conduct. With a variety of professional development opportunities, teachers are able to expand their instructional toolbox and grow as a teacher. For a new teacher, it is important to have support from someone who is NOT an evaluator to help them get comfortable with the new role of teacher.” –School administrator
- “I have observed our newest teachers grow significantly in instruction, student engagement, and classroom management when working with our TUSD New Teacher Mentor. The support provided by the Mentors truly makes a difference in helping our new teachers throughout the school year. I am very grateful for the tremendous support provided by our TUSD New Teacher Mentor. New teachers have a support system outside of the supports provided at the school. Conversations are confidential which allow teachers to open up and feel comfortable sharing their struggles.” –School administrator
- “My mentor this year supported me both with resources, moral support, and actual hands-on “do together” assistance in stressful situations. She helped me regain self-confidence and changed my thought to quit the profession after a very stressful first teaching experience in prior year. I am very satisfied with the interactions my Mentor and I had over these past two years and strongly feel that I would not be the teacher I am today without her support.” –Teacher
- “As a new teacher I value the opportunity to have a mentor. It helps a great deal to have the support of someone familiar with all district curriculum and instruction. The mentor program was the single most important support mechanism I had during the year.” –Teacher