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Teachers Network Leadership Institute:
Action Research:
Assessment & Preparation for Assessment: A Bill of Rights for Beginning Secondary Teachers

by Gretchen Portwood (Fairfax County)

1. A one-on-one, competent, caring, and qualified mentor
2. A classroom
3. A single preparation or reduced load teaching assignment
4. A teaching assignment that allows the BT to be a part of a team of experienced teachers
5. Release time for observation, consultation, and other professional development
6. Timely professional development that satisfies real classroom needs, including a paid summer institute (such as a summer school internship) to prepare beginning teachers for the coming year
7. Exemption from assuming sponsorship of extracurricular activities and other non-teaching duties for at least one year, or release time for taking on these responsibilities
8. Meaningful, equitable, and ongoing assessment, without evaluation
9. Respect from other faculty as a professional in the process of building an "accomplished practice" and rewards for knowledge and skill

Between 30 and 50 percent of well-qualified beginning teachers are currently leaving the profession within their first five years, and the attrition rate is highest among "teachers who do better in college and are rated higher by their principals," says University of Utah Graduate School Dean Ann Weaver Hart, an expert on teacher rewards. (Toch, 1996, p.67) What happens that makes these large numbers of promising teachers leave the profession?

Teaching is "intellectually complex, difficult, and demanding work, at least as complicated as architecture or engineering. Not recognizing this, year after year (principals, teachers, and policymakers) set eager, dedicated people to work without the equipment for the job and somehow expect them to learn on their own." (Saphier, 1995, p.2) Improving the teaching profession will require more than the restructuring teacher education programs, tightening standards, raising salaries, and rigorous assessment. Educators and policymakers must also take on the critical responsibility of designing, supporting, financing, and implementing meaningful teacher induction experiences for beginning educators if we are to keep quality, caring teachers in America's classrooms.

Teacher induction programs designed to provide beginning teachers with the "equipment for the job" (Saphier, 1995) have grown in number and in scope since Virginia abandoned its ineffective Beginning Teacher Assistance Program (BTAP). However, many induction programs still consist of day-long, blitzkrieg inservices about rules and regulations and/or the assignment of a mentor with no release time or even a common planning period with the beginning teacher. Some principals assign as mentors teachers who "need a shot in the arm," according to Sharon Mullen, who works with the Great Beginnings induction program for beginning elementary teachers. (Mullen, 1997) Clearly, induction programs are in their infancy; however, University of Texas-Austin researchers note that current induction programs have "shown great potential to alter the behavior of beginning teachers." Many state legislatures have mandated induction programs, and some have even specified content and designed an implementation procedure. However, University of Texas-Austin researchers "caution that mandated induction programs often limit their scope of effectiveness to the minimum standards as legislated." Fairfax's Mullen, whose induction program entered its third year this fall, believes that a teacher induction program, like any educational endeavor, can only be as effective as the support it receives from policy makers, administrators, and teachers. (Mullen, 1997)

The National Commission on Teaching and America's Future found that teaching is "a profession that has suffered from decades of neglect;" (National Commission, 1996) and a 1996 Phi Delta Kappan survey found that only 46 percent of practicing teachers would encourage the brightest young person they know to become a teacher. (Bracey, 1996) A common theory regarding young people's reluctance to choose education as a career has been the lack of esteem and public support, which was reflected in teachers' typically low salaries. University of Utah Graduate School Dean Hart agrees that "single salary schedules" and a lack of provisions for more pay for outstanding performance are the reasons so many talented, achieving teachers leave the profession. (Toch, 1996) Other studies and interviews with promising young teachers refute that traditional notion, however. "Tomorrow's Teachers," a post-Nation at Risk study, indicated that only six percent of teacher candidates said that financial prospects affected their career choice decisions; in fact, two-thirds of potential teachers picked financial prospects as the least important factors in choosing a teaching career.

Interest in teaching careers is on the rise despite these statistics. "Teaching is hot," says Arthur Levine, president of Teachers College in New York City. "What we're experiencing now is a huge surge of people interested in teaching. The overriding theme ... is idealism." (Albert, 1997) Increased interest in the teaching profession can also be measured by over one million calls in the past nine years to Recruiting New Teachers, a non-profit organization based in Belmont, Massachusetts. (Riechmann, 1996) Even pop culture appears to have joined the crusade. Television commercials show handsome men and women reciting, "I teach," and others feature Michael Jordan asking youngsters what they want to be when they grow up, "A doctor? A lawyer? A teacher ?" The annual 1995 survey of 240,000 freshmen entering 641 institutions conducted by the University of California at Los Angeles reveals the highest level of interest in education careers in more than two decades. (Toch, 1996) "At the University of Florida, one of the nation's larger teaching colleges, enrollment of in the College of Education increased 7 percent between 1993 and 1995, almost twice as fast as the university's overall enrollment. At Teachers College, Columbia University applications were up 54 percent over last year." (Albert, 1997)

These statistics bode well for restructuring the teaching profession, but according to the Department of Education and internal surveys at the National Education Association, nearly half of today's teachers will become eligible for retirement in the next ten years. Today's well-qualified beginning teachers will soon step into leadership roles for the more than two million teachers that the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future predicts the nation will have to hire in the next decade. To provide the best foundation required for these leadership roles, beginning teachers need support from state policy makers, local school boards, school administrators, and teachers--in the form of meaningful teacher induction--to become "competent, caring, and qualified" teachers. (National Commission, 1996)

Keeping these teachers in the nation's classrooms must become a priority for states, local school boards, school administrators, and veteran teachers. When well-prepared, enthusiastic, and dedicated beginning teachers enter the classroom, they often find that, in the words of now deceased American Federation of Teachers President Albert Shanker: "what (they) thought was a difficult job is really an impossible one." (Shanker, 1997) Not only are many beginning secondary teachers "on their own" (Saphier, 1995) with myriad responsibilities, but it is also de rigueur in many secondary schools that rookie teachers suffer through "boot camp" where, despite recommendations to the contrary from teacher induction theory, they are given the most difficult assignments: multi-preparations for the most challenging students; over-enrolled classes containing several categories of mainstreamed special education students; no classrooms of their own, forcing them to carry their teaching supplies around on a cart; "extra" roles for which no one else will volunteer (lunch/hall monitor, grade-level chair, technology rep, class sponsor, Title IX liaison, or yearbook advisor). Beginning teachers have little job security, so the hazing continues when they are offered positions such as coach, cheerleader sponsor, and newspaper advisor, "protected" positions with minimum wage level supplements that would prevent their being riffed or destaffed and having to start all over again the next year at a different school with different expectations.

It is not surprising, therefore, that despite the rising numbers of students electing to become teachers, a North Carolina Department of Education survey of 81,000 teachers indicates that one-third of beginning teachers left the profession by the end of the fifth year: 44 percent who left came from colleges ranked in the top one-fourth in the state, compared with only 26 percent of teachers from the remainder. Though the North Carolina Survey did not ask teachers their reasons for leaving, "the subject now has everyone's attention," says John Dornan, executive director of a non-profit research center studying the state of the teaching profession in North Carolina. That promising young teachers are leaving the profession should "get everyone's attention." If many new teachers are intellectually able; are graduates of prestigious universities and professional development schools; are armed with productive internships and student teaching experiences; and have also indicated that service, and not financial prospects, is an important factor in their career choice, why are they leaving the profession in such alarming numbers? Even the most idealistic beginning teachers can be overwhelmed and quickly disillusioned, however, by the dizzying number of responsibilities they must assume in the day-to-day reality of the school day that have nothing to do with actually teaching their subjects. President Clinton has said that "we ought to find ways to identify and reward good teachers. We should be lifting our teachers up, not bashing them." This advice is especially true for beginning teachers, who need support in putting to work all they have learned in college--a chance to become a "good teacher." Teaching is the only profession where novices are expected to perform, often in isolation, with the same expertise as 25-year veterans, unlike other professions where enculturation and collegiality are a part of the job. If the nation is truly to make teaching a profession and to recruit and retain two million academically able young people into teaching in the next decade, then we must work to provide beginning teachers with the support they need. We must provide an induction experience that nurtures both the idealism and the skills they have brought with them to the profession.

"Attracting, Preparing, and Supporting Teaching's Next Generation," a discussion paper prepared for the U.S. Department of Education by Recruiting New Teachers President David Haselkorn, notes that:

...a number of states... (that) have beginning teacher support programs are revising their standards for new teachers, often in collaboration with INTASC (Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium). Most recently, INTASC has been codifying the expectations for beginning teachers--based on the framework for highly accomplished teaching established by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
NCATE (The National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education) has already incorporated INTASC standards within its unit review standards and is exploring the creation of accreditation standards for professional development schools. But while these developments hold considerable promise, a number of key questions (italics mine) remain:
  • What roles should schools of education play as individuals make the transition from being students of teaching to teachers of students? What roles should schools and school districts play? What roles should teacher unions play?
  • What should new teacher orientation include and when should it occur?
  • What should the first year or two look like for beginning teachers?
  • What kinds of support should be provided? How much release time do novices and their mentors need and what should be expected in each role? Can the same mentor be expected to both support and assess a novice teacher simultaneously?
  • How should mentors be selected, trained, and compensated? From where should the funding come?" (Haselkorn, 1997)

Haselkorn's "key questions" are the critical corollaries to "What should beginning teachers know and be able to do?" The Commission on Teaching and America's Future declares that "what teachers know and can (italics mine) do makes the crucial difference in what children learn." The teacher induction experience will make the crucial difference in what beginning teachers are able and ready to do and what they can do.

If we are to consider "What Matters Most: Teaching for America's Future" as our country's new "Constitution" that formulates America's future policy for teacher preparation, perhaps the next step in guaranteeing American students their "educational birthright: access to competent, caring, and qualified teachers" (National Commission, 1996) will be a "Bill of Rights" that defines the enculturation of today's beginning teachers. By advocating for the next generation of teachers, we help weave an important part of the overall tapestry for improving the education of our children, and we ensure that tomorrow's master teachers will have "the knowledge, skills, and commitments to teach children well." (National Commission, 1996)

A Bill of Rights for Beginning Secondary Teachers is designed to answer David Haselkorn's "key questions" about supporting the next generation of teachers and and are assimilated from research and the experiences of six promising new teachers (Names have been changed.) Two have undergraduate degrees in their subject area and a master's degree in education; one has both an undergraduate and masters degree in her subject area and also a masters in education; two are graduates of schools in the top 25 schools of teacher education, and two others graduated from schools rated in the next 25 (Coroner, 1997); two served year-long internships in the respected Transition to Teaching program at George Washington University; (Schiavone, 1997) all received excellent formal evaluations from administrators and earned the respect of veteran teachers, students, and parents. Though their early teaching years have known some trying times, none has plans for leaving the profession.

The bill of rights is expanded with two types of documentation: reflections from a beginning teacher based on his/her experience and a comment regarding the issue a respected source on restructuring the profession.

1. A one-on-one, competent, caring, and qualified mentor

BT Lauren: Having an official mentor was the difference between my first and second years of teaching. This factor alone, I'm convinced, can make or break a career. My mentor is an extraordinary person with unique abilities. I 've been lucky enough to be taught twice by Tina, first as an eighth grader and now, as a new teacher. The mentor-protegee relationship took time. I often felt like I was taking, taking, taking, and had little to give. The changed a bit over the year. I can't begin to calculate the number of hours Tina committed to this part of her year. She met all my needs as a beginning teacher and assisted me in these areas:

  • offering reassurance (that I wasn't expected to be perfect);
  • planning (modeling of lessons, sometimes from start to finish; also giving me an overall picture of a unit and the year);
  • administrivia (how to scan a test, where to find supplies, etc.);
  • instruction and assessment (how to create a quiz, write a rubric, and grade a product--she modeled all and practiced with me);
  • venting and celebrating (I wonder how many times I ran into her room this year!)
  • Educator-Researcher John I. Goodlad: "...what bothers me most about the post-baccalaureate route is that in many places, bachelor's degree people are being allowed to have a brief introduction to pedagogy and then are being cloned out there with mentors--the very people who some of us think ought to be doing a much better job." (Goodlad, 1991)
  • Great Beginnings Teacher Induction Handbook: (advice to principals on choosing a good mentor) "Search for a person really willing to give 3 hours a week average, a person who is at the same level, a person who doesn't need a shot in the arm, a person who has a track record of persistence with children and truly believes all children can do rigorous academic material at high levels...who might be looking for a way to pay back the profession or get involved." (Mullen, 1997)
  • U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley: "Though you prepare for teaching by taking courses, the best preparation is teaching itself. To learn with the support of master teachers is absolutely critical, and I think teaching colleges are beginning to realize this." (Wulf, 1997)
2. A classroom
BT Margaret: I had one cart and four classrooms my first year. The teachers who shared with me were helpful and did not make me feel like an intruder. Of course, my life would have been easier with one or even two rooms--I imagine I would have saved about an hour of organizing time each day.

A desk in a workroom is fine, but space in an unoccupied classroom one period a day is crucial--so you don't feel as though all of those veteran teachers are looking over your shoulder! Lucky for me, one of my rooms was free during both of my planning periods, so I did have some space.

BT Matt: I had to push a cart and did not have a room. This made it difficult to plan and to give kids make-up work. It was hard for the kids to find me.

3. A single preparation or reduced load teaching assignment
BT Victoria: No amount of teacher preparation courses can prepare prospective teachers for the amount of planning and paper grading it takes to be an effective teacher. This is the single most important and helpful part of this bill of rights.

BT Helen: I taught two different preparations and did not see the Program of Studies until I asked about it. I received a book with school policies but nothing department specific. I kind of received little help in my lesson plans. Occasionally the other precalculus teacher and I would share lessons or worksheets, but this occurred mainly in the third and fourth quarters. About mid-year it just seemed that the task load was endless and the rewards weren't great enough. Although I never considered quitting, it does get hard to maintain your enthusiasm when so much is demanded by the job.

Department of Education: In Japan and New Zealand, new teachers are assigned to classes perceived as less difficult or less critical to educational development, and they carry lighter teaching loads in order to participate in induction activities. (Kirk, 1997)

4. A teaching assignment that allows the BT to be a part of a team of experienced teachers

All BTs: We would love the opportunity to spend significant amounts of time observing and working with good teachers.

BT Margaret: When I balked at calling a parent every time a student missed an assignment, I was accused of throwing the child on " the trash heap of life." I have always found my administrator to be very helpful in such situations.

BT Helen: The people I had to deal with the most were parents who were devastated if their child didn't get an A. Since I teach gifted and talented students, they all are capable; however, they aren't all geniuses! To help the parents understand, I would try to give specific suggestions on what the child needed to do--like take more notes, stay after school, hand in homework daily, etc. for some of the kids, I knew that these changes still wouldn't mean an A. I didn't know what else to do.

Judith Warren Little, University of California, Berkeley: " ... subject collaboratives equip teachers individually and collectively to deepen their subject knowledge and to assume a more assertive role in the reform of curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment. ... Observers highlight six aspects of (a mathematics) collaborative's strength: (a) a capacity for teacher support in subject matter teaching that exceeds that of the district or university, (b) a norm of informed and steady experimentation in (mathematics) teaching, (c) a system of mutual aid that compensates for uneven subject matter preparation among ...teachers, (d) sustained involvement with a professional community of mathematicians and mathematics educators, (e) a connection to the classroom that is sustained by teachers' control over the content and format of the collaborative's activity, and (f) a broadened conception of professional knowledge and involvement that engages teachers in discussion and debate over the nature of mathematics and mathematics teaching, and also engages them in policy deliberations surrounding math teaching at the local, state, and national levels." (Little, 1993).

5. Release time for observation, consultation, and other professional development

BT Margaret: I've been lucky to have leave time one day to work with other ninth grade teachers and three days to go to NCTE. Block scheduling has not given me time with other teachers--it's not that organized yet. More release time for observing other teachers would be such a gift--to see the "reality," pace, and activities going on in other classrooms.

BT Victoria: I haven't planned with other teachers during block scheduling; the teachers I need to plan with to create an interdisciplinary experience are not free the same periods that I am.

Education Researcher Andy Hargreaves: "If the schedule does not allow teachers to meet during the regular school day, they may become worn down and captives of their schedule. under these circumstances collaboration becomes exhausting and contrived--tagged on rather than integral to ordinary commitments and working relationships. It is time for teachers to work with the structural grain, not against it.
Some of these structural problems can be solved by administrative ingenuity. Routinely coordinated planning times can bring together teachers who teach the same grade or subject." (Hargreaves, 1995)

Department of Education: In Japan, New Zealand and Australia, new teachers "(i)n addition to observing and being observed, ... interaction is facilitated by other structural components of induction programs. The school day or week includes dedicated time for group planning, grade-level and curriculum development meetings, and team teaching. These interactions help new teachers in planning, learning about and gaining access to resources and building new relationships; they also let the beginner contribute to the group. (Kirk, 1997)

6. Timely professional development that satisfies real classroom needs, including a paid summer institute (such as a summer school internship) to prepare beginning teachers for the coming year

BT Hillary: A lot of my fellow classmates and I felt that some of our teacher education courses were worthless--an entire semester of how to use the overhead and make certificates on computer programs. Professional development devoted to grading would be the best use of time and resources. This class could include authentic assessments, portfolios, rubrics, and the use of multiple choice. Constructing tests would also be an important element that most education schools don't cover at all.

BT Matt: Schools need to explain their policies better and not assume everyone knows them. Professional development should focus on administrative functions of a teacher: meetings, school and department responsibilities, inservices, workshops, general forms and paperwork, parent conferences, working with guidance/ the career center/nurse, and special education resource teachers (and all the paperwork that goes along with that, not to mention committee work).

BT Lauren: I was not given leave time or administrative coverage to attend professional development classes, but that hasn't stopped me from doing so. Our staff development committee organized two after school workshops on teaching to and assisting tasks related to multiple intelligences. I also applied for and was accepted to a two week institute this summer at Purdue University on citizenship education. I would really encourage new teachers to attend summer programs. It's a fantastic opportunity to learn about methods, teaching, and environments in other parts of the country.

Great Beginnings Teaching Seminar is "a year-long teaching seminar to support beginning teachers and provide professional development appropriate to their ongoing needs in the classroom. Cohort beginning teachers meet biweekly in area groups with outstanding teachers in the teaching seminar, learning to apply their preservice knowledge and gaining new knowledge to be successful teachers." Seminar topics include Back-to-School Night, Review of Classroom Management Techniques, Preparation for Parent Conferences, Record Keeping, Reading/Writing Workshop, Teachers as Reflective Practitioners, Instructional Goal Setting, Student Success: Adapting Instruction for a Wide Range of Learners, Respect for Diverse Cultures Through Multicultural Literature, Integrated Curriculum Unit Development, and Collegial Sharing: Effective Teaching Strategies. Participants have also had the opportunity to attend workshops led by Grant Wiggins, Jon Saphier, and Fred Jones. (Mullen, 1997)

Department of Education: In Japan, New Zealand and Australia, "the induction programs provide 'just in time' activities. New teachers receive information and support when they need it, rather than in lengthy pre-term orientations. For example, in Chiba City, Japan, time is set aside throughout the year for first year teachers to come together, learn, and reflect on topics that are likely to become important to them at about that time in the academic cycle.

In Japan, by law, new teachers must be provided with no less than 60 days per year of in-school training (including observation and advice), under the leadership of the guidance teacher and and least 30 days of out-of-school training per year.

In New Zealand, the Advice and Guidance program provides release time equal to one day per week to spend on induction activities. For this purpose, schools with a new teacher are provided with 20 percent more than the cost of that teacher's slot; most of that funding goes for release time so that the new teacher and/or guidance teacher can participate in observation, consultation, and inservice training; the new teacher has a strong say in how the time is used." (Kirk, 1997)

7. Exemption from assuming sponsorship of extracurricular activities and other non-teaching duties for at least one year, or release time for taking on these responsibilities

BT Matt: Extra coaching jobs have enhanced my classroom performance and made my job easier, in that they helped me learn about the community faster. It also helps in relating to the students and the students identifying with me. The only bad thing was that, combined with my teaching responsibilities, I was hardly ever home.

BT Margaret: I was "asked" to be freshman class sponsor. I felt I had no choice in the matter. I "volunteered" to be class sponsor at my next school after turning down freshman cheerleader sponsor. Although I'd certainly feel more relaxed without these responsibilities, I do feel that they've helped me make more of a connection with students and learn the value of interacting with students outside of the classroom.

BT Helen: I was assigned hall duty, but it was taken away around the beginning of second quarter. Since we were on block scheduling, the hall duty was during my one free period, every other day. Since I didn't know any better, I thought this was just another one of the burdens of being a new teacher. When one of my colleagues spoke to the principal about my lack of time for planning, he immediately took me off hall duty.


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