Sunday, September 4, 2016

Mentoring Might Not Be Enough

Last month, I blogged about hiring 14 teachers for this school year (Support for New Teachers), and I shared that we were committed to providing them with support so they can be successful. We feel confident that we chose the right people for our school and our students.

Well, within the first month, two teachers came to tell me that they would have to resign due to child care issues as well as feeling overwhelmed by the expectations at our school. I felt really bad, but as I always tell my staff, family comes first. So reluctantly, I accepted their resignations.

Relocating to Hawaii is not easy. Although we have so many positives - lovely weather most of the time, friendly people, year-round sports, beautiful beaches, different cultures with a variety of customs, holidays, and food - it is difficult to get by on a teacher's salary. Our new teachers are finding out that their take-home pay barely covers the rent, the cost of their vehicle, food, and other necessities. They are also finding that it's difficult to keep up with reading their emails, doing all the required beginning-of-year assignments, and learning the curricular expectations while trying to manage the individual students in their classrooms who have different strengths and challenges.

We are proud that we have systems in place and handbooks with information about school policies and procedures. We have a Faculty Handbook, a Crisis Management and Safety Guide, and grade level handbooks and matrices so new teachers can see the grade level expectations. We have a Positive Behavior Intervention Support handbook so anyone new to our school can understand our PBIS system. Grade level colleagues are willing to assist and support the new teachers as they make their transition to our school, and all teachers with less than 3 years of teaching experience (here or in another state) are provided a mentor teacher who has had or is undergoing extensive training so they can effectively support our newbies.

As I was discussing the concerns for our new teachers, my vice principal said something that totally made sense. "Think of Maslow's Hierarchy," she pointed out. "They're worried about basic needs - housing, child care, their paychecks. Those are basic needs, and they can't get to the top of the triangle if these basic needs are not met."

I think I hit my forehead as that made so much sense! It's not something we have total control over, but we can make things better for our new teachers. We can't do anything about their paycheck, or their rent, or child care (although we can try to help them make connections), but we can provide them with more support at our school.

So first, we will give our new teachers additional time by hiring substitutes so they can meet with their Instructional Coach, mentor teacher, or the tech team. We will let them decide who they would like to meet with or what they need more support with. They may need the time to review resources, plan their lessons, or visit other classrooms. The important thing is that they will determine what support would be most useful for them, and we will provide it.

Secondly, we will survey our new teachers to see if they would like us to give them a hard copy of important emails or the Staff Bulletin; right now, they're expected to get them electronically. If these are important, then we need to make sure they get a copy especially if they're struggling to find the time to read them. That way, they will be up-do-date on what's happening at the school or what deadlines are coming up.

Third, we have identified four mentor teachers who are committed to working with our new teachers. We appreciate that they are willing to take on this responsibility in addition to their other duties as classroom or resource teachers. They are trained or receiving induction and mentoring training from District staff, and are committed to helping our new teachers. As I read articles about what qualities mentor teachers possess, I know that we have the right mentors in place. We will set aside funds to provide time for our new teachers to meet as a professional learning community with their mentor teachers. New teachers need the opportunity to not only vent, but to learn together and to realize that they can provide great support for each other.

We continue to seek ways to meet the needs of every teacher at our school, but just as we differentiate for our students, our teachers also need targeted support to be successful. Studies show that providing support for new teachers can make a difference in whether they stay in the profession or leave. We believe that all of our teachers can make a positive difference for their students, and we do not want them to leave the profession.