Teacher burnout, turnover and retention have been at the forefront of the minds of local educational agency leaders for years, but now with increased urgency as the pandemic continues to push many educators to the brink.
The six-district Walnut Valley Consortium — comprising Rowland Unified School District, Hacienda La Puente USD, East Whittier City SD, South Whittier SD, Whittier City SD and Walnut Valley USD — has long worked to address these issues at the root: preparation through high quality induction, free of cost to new teachers.
Through induction programs, new teachers are assigned a mentor for their first two years to offer the support needed to be successful. As soon as someone is hired with a preliminary credential within the six districts, Julie Sheldon, the consortium’s induction coordinator, matches them with a mentor they can go to, ideally on the same campus, in their subject area for materials, guidance, lesson plans, support and who can advocate on their behalf. The districts have long provided this to new teachers free of charge, while providing a stipend for mentor teachers. The program boasts a 98 percent retention rate, Sheldon said. “I would say to school boards, find out as much as you can about induction and look at the cost of not having it. It’s an investment in the future.”
While induction is required as part of California’s two-tiered credentialing system, it is often cost-prohibitive for new teachers leaving college with student loans and lower pay. As a result, many beginning teachers may put it off, leaving them without that support in those critical first years.
According to the Learning Policy Institute, “strong mentoring and induction for novice teachers can be a valuable strategy to retain new teachers and improve their effectiveness,” and well-mentored beginning teachers are twice as likely to stay in the field as those who do not receive mentoring. However, state funding once targeted for induction is now folded into the Local Control Funding Formula, which has resulted in many districts reducing their support for new teachers, charging new teachers a fee for induction or requiring them to enroll at an institution of higher education to complete induction. Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, states can leverage federal Title II, Part A funds to support new teacher induction and mentoring, but the state should renew the quality and availability of its longstanding Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment Program, LPI researchers concluded.
New and mentor teachers currently participating in the Walnut Valley Consortium’s induction program shared with CSBA stories about their experiences, how induction became even more critical during the pandemic, why the program is so important and how they and their schools benefit. The below have been edited for length and clarity.
Michelle Boots, mentor, third grade teacher, Walnut Valley USD
I’ve been a mentor off and on for over 20 years now. The student teaching experience is just so different from actually having your own classroom. Your responsibilities multiply 100-fold once you have your own classroom. It doesn’t prepare you for how overwhelming that first year of full responsibility is. Being a mentor and offering that daily support of curriculum, of routines for the school — how do you do your schedule; how do you do report cards; how do you use the electronic grading system; how do you handle different parent situations, or student behavior? There are so many aspects that new teachers are completely unprepared for just because they haven’t had to do it. These are some of the things we call “just in time support.” You’re that go-to person not just in a once-a-week meeting, but if you’re fortunate enough to be on the same campus, an everyday conversation even just in passing. That mentorship is critical. So many teachers right now have either student taught or began their careers digitally, and then you first year online isn’t the same as your second year in person, and you’re having another first year, and then you’re starting all over again. So having that mentor is important. What I love is when my candidate’s going through the inquiry process, I am too. I continue to learn and evolve, and we both find new activities, we both find new research strategies. I have a part in this learning too, and that’s why I keep coming back.
Jill Takayama, mentor, elementary learning specialist teacher, Walnut Valley USD
I went through the program when I was a first-year teacher 17 years ago. A big thing is making sure teachers are paired with someone who will understand their situation, not just pair you with a random person who’s a good teacher, but someone who gets what you’re dealing with. The first year is always rough but this year was extra special. I say we support each other on both ends, because even for me, I’ve been teaching 17 years, but it’s felt like the first year for the last couple years because we transitioned to distance learning and all of these kids with all of these different needs that I’d never experienced before. My candidate supported me as much as I supported him, I think.
Alyssa Marcia, candidate, early childhood special education teacher, Rowland USD
I could not survive without my mentor. There will be days there I’ll tell her, “I can’t do this,” and she’ll say, “you can do this — I’m going to come observe you and help you.” Any questions I have, she’s a specialist in the field, it’s been great. She’ll call me outside of work hours just to see how things are going and I’ll check in on her. I just feel so comfortable, and she just makes me feel like I can do this. We were not trained when we were going to school on [teaching during] a pandemic, and all the social-emotional aspects of that. It’s just a totally different experience than if I’d done it in [college] because in school you go in, you do your assignment, there’s not really a connection. Or I could tell them what my struggles are, but to be here on the campus? It’s so much different. And I want to take advantage of it. I’ve already asked her what did I do well in my first year and what do I need to improve on next year? And as a first-year teacher you know you’re not permanent. So, I try to be careful about what I say or if I want to complain, and I can go to my mentor and ask, “is this something I should fight for or is this something I should let go?” and she advocates for me a lot of the time.
Lori Huckler, mentor, fifth grade teacher, Walnut Valley USD
This is my 34th year teaching, so I didn’t go through induction — we didn’t have induction back then. [My two candidates] and I work so closely together in our teaching situation that I think it really helped build our bond as a team. We really are a strong team. When you can get enough mentors at your school, that’s a huge bonus. The mentors play an important part, but as a 34-year veteran, I can learn so much from [the candidates]. They’re bringing in new ideas and fresh thoughts. You get those fresh people in your grade level, and it helps invigorate you as a teacher too. It’s a give and take, it’s helping everybody. It helps our kids, it helps us as teachers, it’s awesome. This is an invaluable thing, and when you do this, it really gives the school district and the principal another set of eyes. Even though our conversations with candidates are confidential, we can go to bat and say, ‘this teacher is good. We need to find a spot for this teacher in our district.’ It can just strengthen a district so much. You’re recruiting within, basically.
Sophia Zhang, candidate, arts and Chinese teacher at the Broadoaks School, located on the Whittier College campus
This is my second year of induction, so I started induction online, but my mentor offered me so much support. Every little thing, she’s the person I go to. I think I’m mentally prepared now [to run my own classroom] but there’s probably still small things where I would want a second opinion, but I feel much more prepared compared to how it would have been without induction. All of my mentor’s support just built me up and made me so prepared. Without her I don’t know how I would have survived my first year, in virtual and then in person.
Julie Urbaniec, mentor, fifth grade teacher, Walnut Valley USD
Six or seven years ago I was also an induction candidate at Walnut Valley. One of the reasons I really wanted to be a monitor for my candidate this year was because he was a long-term [substitute] at my grade-level last year, and so I already had this relationship with him. One of the great things about new teachers having a mentor and having that dedicated person, especially when they are at the same grade level and the same site, is that your mentor can kind of be a voice for you. As a brand-new teacher, it can be really scary to ask for things, so having someone be able to say, “no, you’re not taking that on,” or having that voice that’s willing to speak up for them is important. We have a meeting at the beginning of the year with our induction candidate and their principal, just so you can establish those expectations and say, like ‘remember, they’re brand new and shouldn’t be serving on 20 different committees’ — really just establishing roles.
Teresa Flynn, mentor, Behavioral and Academic Strategies Team teacher on special assignment, Rowland USD
I have worked in a special education classroom for 21 years with students with Autism. When I first began teaching, I had to learn by trial and error. What I learned in college and my credential program was a basic definition of special education and the textbook theories. What I did not learn is that I may get spit at, my hair pulled, have to change a seventh grader who may still be in diapers and be completely nonverbal. There was nothing in my textbooks that prepared me for my first year of teaching. I wanted to become a mentor for a new teacher because I know the struggle I had not being supported as a new teacher and I wanted to “give back” and help someone be the best teacher they could be. I wanted to share my experiences, my trials and errors, my failures, and all my successes that came with having every one of these experiences. I wanted a new teacher to know that they cannot conquer everything all at once and that they will fail at times. I have learned that if you truly listen to a new teacher talk about their concerns, their frustrations, their challenges, you will hear a scared teacher that hasn’t learned in her college program what to do in these situations and she just needs a listening ear to bounce ideas off of and vent. I have learned that a new teacher is like a sponge, she wants to know everything she can to be a great teacher all at once. I have learned that a new teacher has the drive, the heart, and the passion to be her best self as a teacher. I have learned that my job for her is to be the person to slow her down and help her to master one thing at a time and not everything at once, so she does not get burned out and spend countless hours at school when all the seasoned teachers have already left for the day.