Mentoring Lite and Induction Done Right

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While criticizing the value of teacher mentoring is about as politically incorrect as denouncing laws that protect cute puppies, educator/publisher Harry Wong is not afraid to come out and say it ...mentoring alone doesn't work and such policies, while they provide politicians with wonderful sound bites, don't jive with research or reality.

In an article in a recent issue of the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), Wong asserts states like New York, Wisconsin, Iowa, New Jersey, and Illinois - all of which have passed legislation mandating teacher mentors - may be appeasing teacher groups but are generally wasting their money.

As others have before him, Wong calls for a more comprehensive multi-year induction program in which all the teachers in the school are called upon to play a role in the support and development of its new teachers. In such a system, several veteran teachers -not just one - are given the time, dollars and training to spend a lot of time in the classrooms of new teachers in order to conduct structured observations and provide practical feedback. New teachers, in turn, would be able to do the same in the classrooms of experienced teachers. All this staff involvement means that a school principal has to do a lot more than send a new teacher a note saying "Welcome Ms. Smith. Your mentor is Ms. Jones (She's the short lady in Room 212)."

Wong provides numerous examples of induction programs that work, at least insofar as they reduce teacher attrition, including the Lafourche Parish Public Schools in rural Louisiana. Lafourche has apparently designed such a successful induction program that the state has adopted it as the statewide model for all school districts. Of the 279 teachers hired by the Parish in the past four years, only 11 have left teaching.

Of course, the cost of induction programs done right is a can of worms Wong's essay doesn't touch.