Unflipping the switch

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Just before I started my first year of teaching in a private suburban school, I went through an intense, week-long orientation for new teachers. They gave me my very own 300+ page binder filled with "fun facts" on rules and regulations, and a checklist on the front to keep track of my training progress. I was excited for classes to start and even more excited about the new friends I was making in orientation.

Then school started, and the school administration flipped the switch, leaving us new teachers in the dark. Orientation quickly became a distant memory and all I had was my heavy binder, a half-completed checklist, and a bunch of new friends who didn't know their way around a classroom any better than I did. We didn't even know which bathrooms to use! Instead of establishing relationships with mentors who could illuminate solutions to problems we faced, we buddied up with each other and swapped sob stories about how lost we all were.

So when I came across this article describing the new teacher induction program in Worcester County, Maryland, I wondered to myself, "Why couldn't my supposedly well-resourced school have done something like this?" Worcester County Public Schools claims to offer regular seminars for new teachers tailor-made to address issues they face and to assign them strong, veteran teachers as mentors. According to a survey undertaken by the state, 96 percent of new teachers in Worcester report getting support from their administration and mentors. The article doesn't say how well Worcester's program works, but there's good reason to think that well-designed induction programs reduce new teacher attrition.

It should surprise no one to hear that, three years later, most of the new teachers I started out with no longer navigate the dark hallways of the school, having opted instead for brighter fields of employment.