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Teachers Network Leadership Institute:
Action Research:
Assessment & Preparation for Assessment: The Retired Master Teacher as Mentor: Meeting a National Need

by Tina Yalen (Fairfax County)

"Those having torches will pass them on to others." Plato, The Republic

Executive Summary
Statement of the Problem
Mentorship: One Solution
The Supply/Demand Imbalance
A Problem Presents an Opportunity
The Precedent: New York City's Mentor/New Teacher Program
The Project Details
The RMT as Mentor: A Viable Option
Supports for the Use of RMTs as Mentors
NEA/AFT Interest and Support
Conclusion
Policy Recommendations
Resources
Contacts

Executive Summary
Statement of the Problem:
Ballooning student enrollment, an aging teacher workforce that will soon create the largest bulge of teacher retirements in our history and a chronically high rate of new teachers leaving the profession have combined to create a serious crisis for our school systems. Our nation will need approximately two million new teachers within the next decade. The research is clear that these new teachers are at risk and so are their students unless they receive meaningful guidance and support during the first few years of their career. Mentorship may be one key to their survival and ultimately to their success in impacting student achievement. If mentorship is accepted as a part of the solution, however, there will likely be a shortage of skillful, willing, experienced master teachers to meet the demand for them.

Proposed Solution:
Every beginning teacher should have the opportunity to become the protege of a skilled and qualified mentor, ideally for the first three years of his/her career. In order to meet this need, the pool of available mentors will have to be expanded. Recently retired master teachers (RMTs) should be recruited to augment the supply of available mentors. They should be carefully screened, trained, matched, monitored, supported, recognized and paid.

Advantages:

  1. RMTs have accumulated expertise and wisdom and a wide repertoire of strategies to share;
  2. RMTs have the time and flexibility to meet the protege's needs without other school or classroom responsibilities;
  3. RMTs will benefit personally and professionally as they experience a bridge to retirement, a chance to validate their career and impact the next generation of teachers and students;
  4. Using retirees in such a constructive way is consistent with current research on both successful retirement and successful aging;
  5. Using retirees to support the future of education is supported by both major teacher professional organizations, The AFT and the NEA;
  6. Using RMTs is a cost-effective solution that may, in fact, provide school systems significant payback.
The Retired Master Teacher as Mentor: Meeting a National Need

"If we get the teachers right, everything else will fall into place. We've focused on test scores and all these other things, but we've too often forgotten the single most important thing, which is the teachers."
James. B. Hunt, Governor, North Carolina & Chair, The National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, 1996

Governor Hunt has gotten it right. He understands what any parent who has ever had a child in school understands: that an educational system can have tough, demanding national standards and rigorous tests to measure them, but the heart of the matter remains clear. It is the quality of the teacher in the classroom that drives the machine. If that teacher does not have the skill, the knowledge, the materials, the confidence, the commitment, the energy, the imagination, the dedication, and the support, it will not matter how high a state or nation's standards are; they will not be met for many students. After its extensive research and analysis, the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future (hereafter referred to as the Commission) thus made its position clear in its 1996 report: "Recruiting, preparing, and retaining good teachers is the central strategy for improving our schools," so that every student would have "teachers who have the knowledge, skills and commitment to teach children." If our nation accepts the challenge, we must aggressively work to meet that goal by building a quality teaching force for the next century.

Statement of the Problem

We must find effective ways to support the novices who enter the profession, often full of potential, passion, optimism and energy and help them stay there. One way to meet this challenge is through well-structured, carefully monitored mentoring programs where every beginning teacher has the opportunity to become a protege, supported and guided through the minefield of those first years by a trained, skillful, committed mentor. In fact, the potential impact of mentoring programs during the beginning phase of a teacher's career is well-documented and within the last decade many states and school systems have developed mentoring programs as a key element of their teacher induction process.1 The demographic data paints a clear picture of the urgency of this need. In a recent article in The Wall Street Journal addressing the problem of teacher retirements, Linda Darling-Hammond, executive director of the Commission, directly stated that "we're about to have the largest retirement bulge we've ever had at the same time we're having the greatest enrollment we've ever seen."2 In the same article, the National Center for Education Statistics said that data from as recently as three years ago indicates that 25% of all public school teachers were fifty years old or older and about one third of our entire teacher workforce has been teaching for over twenty years.3 This data, when combined with the climbing teacher attrition rate has lead to predictions by Education Secretary Riley and others that we will need to hire approximately two million new teachers for our public schools within the next decade.4

It is also widely accepted that new teachers are too often ill-prepared for the demands of classroom teaching. Often, new teachers are "shocked" by the realities of beginning teaching when, as newcomers, they are often given the same responsibilities as seasoned veterans without the tools and support to manage them. They typically experience "work overload and a flood of apprehension about themselves, their competence and their role fit" and often find themselves feeling isolated, frustrated, insecure, disillusioned and unfulfilled.5 Under those conditions, they tend to develop a "survival mentality" and it is no wonder that withdrawal, burnout and departure from the classroom often follow.

The Commission's research sees this "chronic attrition of new teachers" in our public schools as an issue needing urgent attention and further predicts that "unless conditions change, they (new teachers) will leave much more rapidly than older teachers do," further exacerbating the problem. 6 In fact, if past data holds, up to 50 % of beginning teachers will not teach beyond five to seven years and in increasing numbers many of the first to leave are our best and brightest. 7 This is a luxury we cannot afford.

These facts put enormous pressure on school systems to use scarce resources in an incessant cycle of recruitment, initiation and replacement of new teachers. More importantly, it too often deprives students of the quality teaching so essential to meeting our nation's educational goals. The Commission categorically states that if these two million new teachers meet the same lack of support as the new teachers before them, "the extraordinary turnover...and the chronic high rates of replacement - particularly for teachers in their first 2-3 years of teaching and particularly in urban districts -" will continue to burden our school systems. This is a burden that must be lifted and evidence shows that mentorship as part of the induction process may be one piece of the solution.

Mentorship: One Solution

The concept of mentorship as a "powerful developer of human potential" is centuries old and its current social applications are widely varied.8 Since the early 1980's, it has become accepted as an effective way to ease entry into the teaching profession, building the competence of new teachers. In fact, the Commission goes so far as to assert that "all beginning teachers should be assigned a skilled mentor...ideally...structured much like a residency in medicine, with teachers continually consulting a seasoned veteran in their teaching field about the decisions they are making and receiving ongoing advice and evaluation."9 The Commission makes a compelling case that "beginning teachers who have had the continuous support of a skilled mentor are much more likely to stay in the profession and much more likely to get beyond classroom concerns to focus on student learning." 10 In effect, then, they "become more effective as teachers because they are learning from guided practice rather than trial and error."11

The Commission maintains that the problem is not that we don't know how to support beginning teachers; it is "that we have not yet developed the commitment to do so routinely." In order for this to happen, policy makers facing the economic realities of limited resources in school budgets, must be convinced that teacher induction with a mentoring component is an essential and valid investment of time and money. They must be persuaded that the mentor/protege relationship has economic value as well as educational value because a true mentoring program does not come free of charge. A school system that simply names mentors and assigns them to novices does not have a true mentor system with the potential to make a significant impact on new teacher development or new teacher attrition rates. An effective mentoring process is a complex one requiring careful design and monitoring, recruitment incentives for mentors, training for mentors, as well as ongoing mentor/protege field support and program coordination. The Commission's study maintains that investments made early in the careers of teachers will, in fact, ultimately lower the 30% attrition rate among new teachers, thus lowering recruitment and hiring costs, will lower staff development costs targeted to remediate ineffective teachers, and will lower costs of remediating students who need to compensate for the effects of weak teaching. Its research maintains that "strategic investment in teacher competence should free up resources for innovation and learning."12

The Supply/Demand Imbalance

Once policy makers are convinced of the value of mentorship with its new teachers, and commit to meeting the Commission goal of matching each new teacher with a skillful mentor, a second issue must be confronted that is no less daunting. There will likely be a supply/demand imbalance; finding enough willing, skillful, experienced mentors for these novices will be a challenge. Working with a novice teacher is not the same as working with students in a classroom and not every active master teacher is suited for, interested in or able to commit to the role. If done effectively, it is demanding and time-consuming and requires some degree of specialized training as well as out-of-classroom time for the mentor.

For numerous and very logical reasons, therefore, there will not be enough active, experienced master teachers willing and able to serve as mentors to meet this growing demand. This likelihood cuts to the heart of the problem because without a supply of experienced teachers who have both the personal and professional skills needed for mentoring and a genuine desire to serve as a mentor for a newcomer, and the time in the school day to see it through, any mentoring program will not meet its potential. It then becomes clear that the mentor pool will have to be expanded if we are to provide our two million new teachers with the skillful, experienced, committed mentor that may, in fact, be one of the keys to their survival in the profession.

A Problem Presents an Opportunity

This convergence presents both a problem and an opportunity. It gives us a chance to tap a powerful national resource in a valuable way. I suggest that as school systems search for mentors for their beginning teachers, they consider using recently retired master teachers as mentors. If organized properly, such an option stands to meet the needs of the school, the protege and the retired master teacher (RMT). It offers the school system and its novices an expanded pool of experienced teachers who may be available to support them and it offers the RMTs a career extension that could provide an extraordinary opportunity to validate their life's work as their skills and expertise are tapped while they make a meaningful contribution to the future of the profession. With the number of retirees about to increase significantly as the baby boomers come of retirement age early in the twenty-first century, this potential pool will grow.

The Precedent: New York City's Mentor/New Teacher Program

Such an idea is not without precedent. In the mid-eighties, the New York City Board of Education's Bureau of Staff Development, the City University of New York Center for Advanced Study in Education and Barnard College, Columbia University collaborated in sponsoring the Mentor/New Teacher Project, a unique approach designed to attract, support and retain new teachers in New York City's public school system. It was the first time a school system tapped the expertise of its retired teachers to support its beginning teachers in such a formal way. After three years of the program and careful analysis of the evaluation data collected, the program directors reached the conclusion that "using retired teachers as mentors for beginning teachers...made real differences in the lives of the new teachers, their mentors, the students and the supervisors in approximately 100 schools where more than 100 mentors worked with 500 teachers over a period of 3 years."13 Unfortunately, according to Dr. Katherine Wilcox, a founder and developer of the program, it ended after three years due to lack of funding and a politically changed school board which withdrew its financial support. When interviewed for this report, Dr. Wilcox expressed her belief that such a program "would still be viable today and those involved with it still carry very positive memories of their experiences."14

The Project Details

In New York's Mentor/New Teacher Project, recently retired public school teachers who had the credentials and desired to remain active professionally were recruited and specifically trained to be mentors for newly hired teachers. Over 400 retired teachers who had been recommended by their principals responded positively to an invitation to consider participation. After a thorough screening process, ultimately over 100 served as mentors.15 They were seen as "master teachers with valued expertise."16 All had retired within the last five years, their ages ranged from 58 to 76 years and they had a group average of 26.6 years of teaching.17 As much as possible, they were assigned to their local/home school and, in secondary schools, with proteges in their own fields. Each mentor worked with three proteges for a school year total of 66 hours each (annual total 198 mentoring hours) and was paid according to the system's standard consulting hourly rate. Although mentors did occasionally join administrators in formal observations and follow-up conferences with their proteges, mentors were not part of the formal evaluation process. Each mentor made his/her own arrangements with his/her proteges and were able to build in vacation periods to suit their lives as retirees.18

Federal funding supported the program's evaluation process and the data supports the program in every way.

  1. The retention rate of mentored teachers and their attendance rate were greater than that for non-mentored teachers.
  2. Mentored teachers perceived the assistance they received at "a significantly higher degree of helpfulness" than their non-mentored counterparts who received normal support services, especially in regards to moral support, encouragement, building self-esteem, lesson planning, teaching tips, classroom management and organization.19
  3. The new teachers involved in this program saw the mentor as a teacher with a great deal of experience, and were encouraged by their "non-threatening manner"and by their "friendly attitude."
  4. Age and gender differences did not appear to present a problem. 20
  5. Principals and assistant principals were fully informed and involved in the program and without exception, school administrators gave "excellent grades to the mentoring program," recognizing the mentors as "an extension...a supplement..an adjunct...an extra arm" and as "invaluable members of a support team."21
  6. In their evaluation, administrators noted the great strides made by the new teachers and they gave much of the credit to the retired mentors for their contributions.
  7. They wanted the program to continue, advocated the continuance of assistance for new teachers into a second year and saw value in extending mentoring to other teachers who needed help.22
  8. The principals also commented on the value of using retirees as mentors. They preferred using retirees to removing teachers from their classrooms for part of the day and they liked the assignment of mentors who, unlike administrators and active classroom teachers, had no other duties during the school day and therefore could focus their full attention on their proteges.
  9. They also valued the flexibility of the retirees' time and their thorough familiarity with the local school system.23
  10. This enthusiasm was apparently matched by the enthusiasm of the retirees themselves, over 90% of whom said they enjoyed their work as a mentor "very much." Most mentors did not see themselves as being at all "retired," but in a different phase of their careers, one whose format was more pleasant and less stressful than their former one. Interestingly, the majority felt that the position of mentor was more highly esteemed than that of teacher.
  11. An overwhelming majority of the retiree mentors (82% first year, 87% second year) said they would mentor again the following year if asked.24
When asked why they chose to be a mentor, the retirees said they wanted "to do something useful, to make a contribution to a new teacher, to use their experiences to help a newcomer." They apparently developed strong connections with their proteges that blended professional development with a personal commitment. During the mentoring experience, they noticed that "they had become involved in the success of their new colleagues." In addition to the service aspect of their work, the mentors reported that "mentoring made their transition to retirement easier, providing a flexible but formal structure to their days; it afforded them companionship with fellow retirees and colleagues as well as the new teachers; and because mentoring was seen as a very meaningful and useful activity, it built a sense of mastery and achievement." Less burdensome than full time work, serving as a mentor offered the challenge of a new career "with its own set of rewards and incentives - while still being open-ended, short-lived or continuing." In addition, mentors reported "satisfaction from continuing to contribute to their profession, gratification from having their expertise put to use, and enjoyment from still 'basking in the scene,' and, of course, seeing the progress they noted by their proteges."25

The RMT as Mentor: A Viable Option

The fact that New York City's Mentor/New Teacher Project was discontinued after three years does not diminish the value of the concept or the design. The data gathered at the conclusion of the program is, in fact, a testament to its potential and its value. An examination of current demographic trends and research on successful aging both indicate that using retired master teachers as mentors deserves a second look, not just because there will be a shortage of active master teachers to meet the need and not just because it has been tried once and worked. It is a viable option because it is a win/win option that makes sense as we look ahead to the twenty-first century.

Of course, not all retired master teachers would fit the profile of a potential skilled mentor, and many others would not be interested in pursuing this career extension. Given those realities, however, there is still strong evidence that many others would welcome the opportunity, pursue it and thrive in it, thus representing a potential vast and largely untapped human resource that can benefit our schools, beginning teachers, students as well as the retirees themselves.

The National Education Association (NEA) projections of teacher retirements into the twenty-first century dramatically highlight just how significant this potential pool will be. During the current decade, 1990-2000, they have projected 610,770 retirees with a dramatic "baby boom" leap to 942,280 in the next decade, 2000-2010, and then continuing at a slower climb to 993,790 during the decade 2010 to 2020. 26 Even if only a fraction of these retirees fit the profile and have the motivation to mentor, that number can play a significant role in the lives of thousands of beginning teachers. In an era when the wise use of resources is a constant theme, this human resource should be tapped.

Supports for the Use of RMTs as Mentors

  • Accumulated Expertise and Wisdom
    With their sense of the past and connection to both the present and the future, RMTs are uniquely qualified to mentor beginning teachers. They have accumulated many years of experience often in a wide range of situations. They have developed mature wisdom, leadership, credibility, expertise and a repertoire of strategies in the areas where beginning teachers need guidance the most. They have the ability to give back the lessons and resources that they have been cultivating over a professional lifetime and should be given the opportunity to do so.
  • Time and Flexibility
    Unlike active teachers and administrators often asked to serve as mentors, RMTs have no other school responsibilities and duties to distract them from their focus on their protege. For the first time, they have both the expertise, the time and the flexibility to train for the position, serve in it and commit to it.
  • Motivations and Rewards for the Retiree
    Serving as a mentor offers rewards to the RMTs, both tangible and intangible, that research on human behavior, aging and retirement seems to indicate have significant quality of life value. For example, retiree mentorship:
    • offers a transition into retirement and a way to retain part of one's identity, thus making the life change less abrupt;
    • provides a career extension that is less stressful and less-structured yet meaningful, valued and useful;
    • establishes a flexible but "formal" structure to post-work life, that leaves options for either an open-ended or short-lived experience;
    • provides an opportunity to validate one's professional life;
    • provides a sense of gratification, enhanced self-esteem, personal achievement and affirmation as one's expertise and competence are recognized and put to good use;
    • provides a way to "give something back" and make a contribution to the next generation of teachers;
    • provides the mental stimulation and excitement of a new challenge;
    • provides a continuing sense of engagement and connection with both colleagues and one's professional life;
    • provides companionship with fellow retirees and colleagues;
    • provides an opportunity to have "the best of both worlds," teaching without the burdens of paperwork and grading;
    • earns respect with the "professor emeritus" status, feeding a sense of self-worth;
    • may provide payment, adding to one's post-retirement income;
    • may prove to have a positive impact on both mental and physical well-being.
  • Consistent with Current Research on Successful Retirement
    Using RMTs fits well with the current research on retirement and aging, the results of which have been challenging the traditional myths and stereotypes connected with growing old. Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary which defines retirement as "the withdrawal from one's position or occupation; the conclusion of one's working or professional career" may need some revision. With twenty-first century expectations of lifespans in the United States reaching into the late seventies and early eighties, and of retirement ages steadily dropping, a retiring adult can reasonably expect to live a relatively active life for another two decades after "retirement."27 This so-called "Longevity Revolution" is creating, for the first time in history, a mass society of healthy, active senior citizens, and like the "baby boom," this "senior boom" is likely to have profound effects on our society and its various institutions.28 Not the least of these effects is how "retirement" will be defined and how it is lived, making the idea of retirees serving as mentors a very realistic one.

    According to Dr. Ken Dychtwald, a gerontologist and psychologist in Berkeley, California, results of recent surveys agreed fairly closely that only about 27% of Americans "want to stop working completely" at retirement age and over 60% want to "keep working full- or part-time." He predicts that "changing attitudes and financial necessities will raise this percentage even higher." 29 The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), whose membership has skyrocketed to well over thirty million since its founding in 1958, has found that those approaching retirement age "no longer see it as a sharp break with the past" but rather see it as a "continuity...retiring from their lifelong career to continue working either in a new job in the field or in an unrelated area."30

    Recent polls sponsored by the AARP and the National Council on Aging reinforce this trend, indicating that the closer workers get to retirement age, the more they want to keep working, and among those already re- tired, 40% would rather still be working. There is increasing evidence that those who thought their workdays were behind them seem to be finding ways to return to the workplace "either as their sole pursuit or as one part of their retirement portfolio." According to Dr. Letitia Cham- berlain, Director of New York University's Center for Career, Education and Life Planning, many retirees want to return to the workplace to sup- plement their income, but many others "simply miss the challenge of the workplace and its camaraderie, or they want to maintain their technical and professional skills." Others seek an antidote to boredom and de- sire a "reactivation." These conclusions are supported by results of a recent poll on retirement published by USA Today on March 7, 1997, which indicated that 75% of the respondents "would choose to keep on keeping on, to continue working full or part time."

    Although still seen as a major turning point in life, retirement is increasingly seen as a process - a transition into the next stage of life - rather than an event that ushers in a period of obsolescence and invisibility. The importance of maintaining oneself as a vital and contributing member of society is seen as the centerpiece as retirees shift from a life of work to a life of options. These developments all bode well for the likelihood that RMTs will be available to serve as mentors.

  • Consistent with Current Research on Aging

    Current research on aging reinforces the potential value of retirees as productive, valued members of society. Research indicates a "revolution in the life cycle...(where) people today are leaving child- hood sooner, but they are taking longer to grow up and much longer to grow old, thus shifting all the stages of adulthood ahead up to ten years." In contemporary America, eight in ten of us can expect to sail past our 65th birthday and researchers have already pushed "middle age" far into the fifties and some even beyond. Studies reinforce the value of productive aging marked by a creative mid-life that is engaged and vital, a time for personal growth, options and new- found pleasures. This newly defined and extended life stage has even earned a new name: middlescence.

    Researchers increasingly suggest that retirees who evaluate their work and leisure skills, learn to transfer, adapt and use those skills as they also develop new ones while setting goals and making plans will make the transitions to new life stages successfully. Retirees are also encouraged to take advantage of such options as "con- sulting and freelancing, volunteer possibilities, temporary jobs, edu- cational options (and) entrepreneurship to meet personal needs for achievement, social contact, usefulness and a sense of challenge."

    Current research supports the landmark work on life stages published by Erik Erikson, "the father of adult development," back in 1950. One of the key themes of late adulthood that he identified was the concept of generativity - the ability to care for those who come after us by finding ways to reach out and contribute. Once again, the use of RMTs as mentors seems to fit nicely into the research.

  • Using Retired Master Teachers is Cost-Effective

    As retired teachers leave the profession, they take with them their high- end salaries. Their replacements, new teachers earning salaries at the low end, thus represent a cost saving in salary expenditures of approx- imately $30,000-40,000 per retiree. With the substantial increases in teacher retirements projected for the next decade, this will represent a significant change in a school system's salary expenditures. Investing some of this saving in mentorship programs to support novices who des- perately need the support would be a wise investment with real payback:

    • Since there is strong evidence that skillful mentoring of beginning teachers increases the likelihood that they will remain in the profes- sion, the incessant cost of recruitment and hiring will be reduced if mentoring becomes the norm;
    • Since there is strong evidence that effective mentoring also has significant impact on the development of a new teacher's skills, the costs of programs geared at improving the skills of ineffective teachers and remediating the students impacted by weak teaching will likely be reduced;

NEA/AFT Interest and Support

This research has not been lost on the two major organizations that represent both active and retired teachers, the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Both organizations have made a serious commitment to the future of public education and to the next generation of teachers and they represent a significant force for impacting po- litical, educational and social policy. Both have specialized divisions focused strictly on the practical needs and support of their retired membership.

In addition to providing a powerful voice in public policy matters, and practical information and services to their retired membership, both organizations have also shown an interest in encouraging their retirees to use their talents, experi- ence and time by seeking opportunities for them to do that. With both organiza- tions predicting significant growth in the ranks of their retirees, these functions take on added interest.

In its Commitment Statement, NEA-Retired states its goal to utilize "the talents and experience of retired people to support the development of quality educa- tion, to assist public school children to read and to mentor youth." NEA's Qual- ity Public School Agenda, a series of legislative initiatives focused on increas- ing the quality of public schools, takes this commitment even further. According to Dale Lestina, the coordinator of NEA's lobbying effort in Congress, one piece of the proposal asks for legislative action to "create a program that will help lo- cal schools create programs where experienced retired teachers can mentor teachers just starting their careers." He seems optimistic that such an idea is feasible as he commented, "We're seeing a lot of excitement about this proposal."

Feeding his optimism is recent evidence that there is significant interest among retired teachers to involve themselves in service activities. In NEA- Retired's most recent random sample membership survey conducted in 1994 and just published in July, 1997, "interest in volunteering" was one of the major topics. Results show that over half of NEA retirees (59%) are involved in some type of volunteer work and when asked how they feel about volunteering time to do education-related activities, 39% "would both mentor younger education employees and tutor at-risk students." When asked about mentoring younger education employees, there was some variance by state, but between a third and a half (32% to 49%) of the respondents in 27 particular states said they "would definitely or probably be willing to do so." Given that this result was asked in a volunteer context without any payment as incentive, this figure can serve as an indication of the potential interest in such an opportunity. If added income were part of the opportunity, it is reasonable to expect that its appeal would increase somewhat.

Todd Crenshaw, staff liaison for NEA-Retired, believes that a number of NEA-Retired's 151,000 members are, in fact, already serving as mentors for new teachers in sites around the country. A plan is in place to do a state by state survey to collect the data and attempt to quantify the extent of new teacher mentoring by retirees. This survey will be sent out to the current NEA-Retired members via the September 1997 issue of their monthly magazine, NEA-Retired.

The AFT has also expressed an interest in pursuing the merits of encouraging retirees to serve as new-teacher mentors. In fact, their chapter in Minneapolis has been investigating the possibility in one of its secondary schools. A membership survey is currently in the planning stages and according to Jewell Gould, Director of Research, the topic will be brought up at the Retiree Committee meeting in late July, 1997.

Conclusion

The evidence accumulated by the National Commission on Teaching and Amer-ica's Future and summarized in its recent report makes a strong case that "the traditional sink-or-swim induction contributes to high attrition and to lower levels of teacher effectiveness." Studies also indicate that teacher expertise is the most important factor in student achievement. If, as the National Commission proclaims, that "competent teaching is a new student right," then we as a nation must find ways to fulfill the promise as we face the challenge of an increasingly inexperienced teacher workforce as we move into the twenty-first century. If, in fact, "there is just no way to create good schools without good teachers," then we must find ways to make good teachers - and many of them. Skillful mentorship is one of them.

Using retired master teachers who have the credentials, the personality, the interest, the expertise, the commitment and the energy is certainly not the only way, but it is one way to move toward this objective. With Americans in increasing numbers living longer and healthier lives, often seeking to remain creative, productive and valued, the seniors of the twenty-first century can be the most influential generation in history. It is a win/win situation when a society invites and welcomes its seniors to be engaged in the growth and development of its junior members and nowhere might this be more vital and doable than in our schools. The novices gain invaluable advice and services; the retirees serving as mentors gain self-esteem and an opportunity to "think grandly about what it takes to educate a teacher." As mentors they will likely make a significant impact on the next generation of teachers, and through their success, on the next generation of students as well. When all is said and done, this is the essence of what being a teacher is; only the "students" will have changed. Carpe diem.

Policy Recommendations

  • Every school system should have in place a new teacher induction program that contains a mentoring component.
  • Every beginning teacher should have the opportunity to become the protege of a skilled and qualified mentor, ideally for the first three years of his/ her career.
  • Retired master teachers should be recruited to serve as mentors to augment the supply of qualified, available mentors for new teachers.
  • All mentors should be carefully screened, trained, matched, monitored, supported, recognized and paid for their service.
  • Mentors should not be part of the formal evaluation process.

Resources/References

"Association Pioneers Teacher Training Program," FEAtures (Fairfax Education Association newsletter), December 1996, pp. 1,2.

Bey, Theresa M. and Holmes, C. Thomas, Mentoring: Contemporary Principles land Issues, Association of Teacher Educators, Reston, Virginia, 1992.

Boling, Rick, "Retirement May Be Bad for You," Modern Maturity, January/February 1997, p. 68.

Cohen, Susan, "Old Glory," The Washington Post Magazine, June 1, 1997, pp. 6-11, 25-31.

Coombs, H. Samm, Time Happens: You Couldn't Have Picked a Better Time to be Fiftysomething, Halo Books, San Francisco, California, 1995.

Downs, Hugh, Fifty to Forever, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee, 1994.

Dychtwald, Ken and Flower, Joe, Age Wave: The Challenges and Opportunities of an Aging America, Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc., Los Angeles, California, 1989.

Feiman-Nemser, Sharon, "Teacher Mentoring: A Critical Review," ERIC DIGEST, July, 1996.

Floyd, Nancy, ed., "Consumer Guide: Mentoring," Office of Research, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, US Department of Education, Washington, D.C., October, 1993.

Gehrke, Nathalie J., On Being a Teacher, Kappa Delta Pi Publications, Indiana, 1987.

Gold, Milton J. et al, "Passing the Torch: Retired Teachers as Mentors for New Teachers," Center for Advanced Study in Education, New York, New York, 1987.

Harden, Paula Payne, Ed. D., What Are You Doing with the Rest of Your Life? New World Library, San Rafael, California, 1992.

James, Cheri, "Improved Teaching and Learning Start Today," VEA News, April, 1997, p. 2.

"In Defending Teachers, Clinton Calls for Help in Improving Quality," Education Week, September 18, 1996.

Kornhaber, Arthur, "A Few Grandparenting Lessons from America's Most Outspoken Grandpa," Modern Maturity, January/February 1997, pp. 53-56.

Kronholz, June, "Teacher Retirements Portend Acute Shortage," The Wall Street Journal, July 24, 1997, B1 & B 10.

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Mentor Teacher Handbook, Evergreen School District of Vancouver, Washington and The Evergreen Collegial Teacher Training Consortium, 1987.

"NEA's '97 Agenda: The Retiree Link," NEA-Retired, May 1997, p. 3.

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Otterbourg, Robert K., Kiplinger's Retire and Thrive, The Kiplinger Washington Editors, Inc., Washington, D.C., 1995.

Patterson, Jack, "10 Years on the Outside," Business Week, July 21,1997, p. 92.

Peterson, Karen S., "Life in the Slower Lane Appeals to Most in Poll," USA Today, March 7-9, 1997, pp. 1A, 2A.

Ponessa, Jeanne, "High Teacher Attrition Grabs Attention in North Carolina," Education Week, June 19, 1996.

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Shine, Eric, "There's Never Any Reason to be Bored," Business Week, July 21, 1997, pp. 70-72, 76.

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Sundin, Louise, Memorandum: Help on Identifying Resources for the Use of Retired Teachers as Mentors, Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, February 14, 1997.

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Contacts

Mr. Todd Crenshaw, Staff Liaison, NEA-Retired

Mr. Jewell Gould, Director of Research, AFT

Dr. David S. Martin, Professor, Department of Education, Gallaudet University

Dr. Katherine Knight Wilcox, Senior Lecturer in Education, Barnard College, Columbia University, and co-developer of The Mentor-New Teacher Program, New York City

Dr. Fran Prolman Zimmerman, Educational Consultant, specialist in teacher- training and mentoring

The Executive Committee, Fairfax County Retired Educators

 

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