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Rationale for Mentoring, Extensiveness of Mentoring Programs, Issues and Controversies

Schools that provide mentoring programs assign a veteran teacher to act as adviser, teacher, and coach to beginning teachers within their schools. Some have defined mentoring as "a formalized relationship between a beginning teacher and a master teacher (mentor) that provides support and assesses teaching skills" (Education Commission of the States website). Others use the terms buddy, coach, and master teacher to describe the person who helps the beginning teacher develop into a seasoned veteran.

Often mentoring programs are just one strategy of full induction programs designed to ease the transition of the new teacher into the profession of teaching. Within an induction program, schools develop structured activities to help orient new teachers to the system and assume the roles and responsibilities of practicing teachers. Induction programs are typically comprehensive programs that guide new teachers through their beginning years in the school. Induction programs are often seen as a process lasting from one to three years. Within the induction program, the mentorship puts the focus on the relationship between the new teacher and mentor; the mentor is charged with assisting and supporting the new teacher as he or she transitions from student teacher to teacher of students. Many believe mentoring to be an essential component of the induction program.

The roles and responsibilities undertaken by the mentor vary from program to program. In all cases, however, it is the mentor who plays an essential role in achieving the goals of the induction program. Using strategies such as consultation, demonstration, and observation, the mentor can act as the primary source of assistance for the new teachers.

A mentor is defined as simply a veteran teacher assigned to a new teacher. Veteran means that the teacher is not in his or her first year of teaching; however, the number of years of experience is not necessarily specified. Typically, mentors have at least three years of experience in their school district or division that allows the mentor to develop an expertise and understanding about the school system and to become skilled and comfortable within the classroom. Mentors may or may not have classroom teaching responsibilities at the same time that they act as mentors. In some cases, mentors may have been relieved of teaching assignments and act solely as mentors. Occasionally schools entice retired teachers back into the schools to act as mentors.

Mentors assist their new teachers in a variety of ways. It is the school district's duty to define the roles and responsibilities of mentors. One way is to assist neophyte teachers to become acquainted with their new environment. Mentors might provide a tour of the facilities, introduce the new teacher to staff and faculty, describe procedures and policies of the division, explain grading philosophies, and offer suggestions for lessons and classroom management. In the work of Sharon Feiman-Nemser and Michelle Parker, mentors who assume these duties are called local guides.

Others envision the responsibilities of the mentor as going beyond those acclimation duties. In such cases, the mentor fulfills the necessary orientation responsibilities and then moves the conversations to the next level. These mentors talk with their new teachers about instructional issues and their effect on student learning. They help the new teachers reflect on their performances and decisions so that improved student learning is the outcome. A label applied to mentors fulfilling these roles is educational companion.

Finally, Feiman-Nemser and Parker have identified another role that mentors can adopt: that of change agent. Mentors as change agents seek to establish a new culture within a school–one of collaboration and commitment to continual professional development. This role transcends the typical role of assisting new teachers. In this case mentors attempt to break the traditional "closed-door" culture within schools and affect change throughout a system. Regardless of the role, how mentors assist new teachers is the prerogative of the school district.

Rationale for Mentoring

School districts are faced with a myriad of problems. Not the least of those problems is ensuring that all children are taught by competent and qualified teachers. This is a growing concern in the early twenty-first century. It is anticipated that over two million new teachers will be required to fill the classrooms of America by 2012 because of mushrooming enrollments, teacher attrition, and massive retirements among the aging population of current teachers. The job of a teacher is not an easy one. Districts and divisions are looking for ways to acknowledge the demands of the job and offer support to those who accept the challenge. Mentor programs, a promise of support, are one benefit that school districts can offer.

Filling the demand is not the sole issue, however. Even if school districts could find the sheer numbers of teachers needed, retention of these new hires becomes a problem. It is estimated that 30 percent of new teachers do not return to the classroom after their first year. Over the first five years, 40 percent leave the profession. In many cases, those leaving are the most academically talented teachers. Furthermore, new teachers are more apt to leave schools with the greatest need, leaving children to experience a succession of new teachers. Such high-need schools include those in urban settings and the rural countryside.

Many new teachers cite the feelings of isolation and lack of support as critical determinants in their decision to leave. Teaching is one of the few professions whereby a new graduate is expected to perform as fully as a seasoned professional does. Other professions such as medicine offer supervised internships and residencies that allow the new graduate an opportunity to practice with guidance from a veteran. Education, to date, rarely provides such experiences. The educational tradition of "sink or swim" that often leaves the new teachers on their own to discover what works and what doesn't is no longer a viable option for schools.

Extensiveness of Mentoring Programs

Information about the role of mentoring programs that support new teachers during their first years is not well documented. In 1996 the National Center for Educational Statistics published data regarding the participation of new teachers in induction programs. Although specific information about mentoring programs is absent, some encouraging trends are seen. For the 1993 to 1994 school year more than half (56.4%) of all public schools teachers with three or fewer years of experience were involved in induction programs. This is an increase of 39 percent from new teachers involved in induction programs of the 1980s. The National Center for Educational statistics for 1999 to 2001 data are expected to indicate that more new teachers were involved in induction programs.

In fact, induction programs are blossoming all over the country as one strategy to support teachers in their transition from student teacher to professional teacher. Data released in 2001 indicates that thirty-three states have written beginning teacher induction statutes; twenty-two of the states mandate and fund the programs. In addition, assigning mentors to assist the new teachers is often a component of induction programs. Twenty-nine states include mentorships as part of the induction process according to data published by the American Federation of Teachers in 2001.

Issues and Controversies

As mentoring programs develop to help new teachers transition from student teacher to classroom teacher, questions, issues, and debates begin to surface as well. One such issue centers on the question of purpose; a second issue focuses on effectiveness.

For many years mentoring programs were defined as vehicles to support and assist new teachers as they began their teaching careers. This assistance and support was based on the trusting relationship that developed between the mentor and new teacher. Much of the trust came from the defined role that mentors were there only to assist and support, not assess. New teachers felt comfortable exposing their concerns and problems to the mentor because the mentor was there to help. The argument was that if mentors evaluated the new teachers, then the new teachers would not come to the mentors with problems and concerns. Trust would be violated and the purpose of the mentoring programs defeated.

In the early twenty-first century some are questioning the separation of assistance and assessment. Given the intimate role mentors play in the lives of new teachers, mentors may possess critical information about the quality of the new teachers' skills and knowledge. Such information should not be absent from a comprehensive evaluation of the new teachers. The ultimate purpose of mentoring programs is to ensure quality teachers for every child; therefore, the argument is that mentors should provide evaluative data that are used in the decision of continued employment.

The general feeling, however, is that most mentoring programs embrace the concepts of assistance and support, leaving evaluation to those outside the mentor role. A small number of programs are combining assistance and assessment, however, so the verdict is still out as to which approach works best.

A second issue being explored is the effectiveness of mentoring programs. How should mentoring programs be evaluated to determine their effectiveness? During the last wave of mentoring programs in the early 1990s, the effectiveness of mentoring programs was usually framed around the perceived benefits to the participants. New teachers felt the mentors were helpful; mentors perceived their roles as effective. What is needed and being pursued are more empirical data that indicate mentoring programs are responsible for the goals they strive to achieve. Typically mentoring programs identify one or more of five common goals: (1) to improve the skills of new teachers, (2) to acclimate the new teacher to the culture of the school and community, (3) to provide emotional support, (4) to retain quality teachers, and (5) to meet state mandates and requirements for licensure. Data need to be collected that identify the ways in which mentoring programs' features and practices achieve these goals. Specific correlations between what mentoring programs do and what goals are achieved would allow schools to incorporate practices and features designed to succeed. These are the avenues for future research.


FEIMAN-NEMSER, SHARON, and PARKER, MICHELLE B. 1992. Los Angeles Mentors: Local Guides or Educational Companions? East Lansing, MI: National Center for Research on Teacher Learning.

FIDELER, ELIZABETH F., and HASELKORN, DAVID. 1999. Learning the Ropes: Urban Teacher Induction Programs and Practices in the United States. Belmont, MA: Recruiting New Teachers.

NATIONAL COMMISSION ON TEACHING AND AMERICA'S FUTURE. 1996. What Matters Most: Teaching for America's Future. New York: National Commission on Teaching and America's Future.

ODELL, SANDRA, and FERRARO, DOUGLAS. 1992. "Teacher Mentoring and Teacher Retention." Journal of Teacher Education 43 (3):200–204.

SERPELL, ZEWELANJI. 2000. Beginning Teacher Induction: A Review of the Literature. Washington, DC: American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.

SERPELL, ZEWELANJI, and BOZEMAN, LESLIE. 1999. Beginning Teacher Education: A Report on Beginning Teacher Effectiveness and Retention. Washington, DC: National Partnership for Excellence and Accountability in Teaching.


AMERICAN FEDERATION OF TEACHERS. 2001. "Beginning Teacher Induction: The Essential Bridge." <www.aft.org/edissues/downloads/NEW_TEACH_INDUCT.pdf>.

EDUCATION COMMISSION OF THE STATES. 1999. "Beginning Teacher Mentoring Programs." <www.ecs.org/clearinghouse/13/15/1315.doc>.

NATIONAL CENTER FOR EDUCATIONAL STATISTICS. 2002. "Schools and Staffing Survey." <www.nces.ed.gov/surveys/sass/>.

NATIONAL CENTER FOR RESEARCH ON TEACHER LEARNING. 2001. "NCRTL Explores Learning from Mentors: A Study Update." <http://nctrl.msu.edu>.

SOUTHWEST EDUCATIONAL DEVELOPMENT LABORATORY. 2002. "Mentoring Beginning Teachers: Lessons from the Experiences in Texas." <http://emissary.ots.utexas.edu/wings/mentoring>.


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