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Teachers Network Leadership Institute:
Action Research:
Assessment & Preparation for Assessment: New Teacher Support for All of California's New Teachers

by Jerry Swanitz (Santa Barbara County)

Jerry Swanitz with colleagueDo or Die
Bringing Them In, Keeping Them In
Wanted: Teachers for Hire
Widening and Deepening the Pool
References, Resources, and Contacts


Do or Die

Society entrusts teachers with a tremendous responsibility: preparing the citizens who will fashion our future. Given the significance of that responsibility and the degree of trust implicit in it, it is alarming, if not shameful, how poorly we transition teachers from pre-service into their first jobs. It is, all too often, a "do or die" proposition.

New teachers are typically handed a classroom key, given a quick orientation on school policies and procedures, and left to assume their teaching duties with little or no support. Frequently they are given difficult classes to teach and assigned adjunct duties as well. They are generally left to teach in isolation with no opportunity to observe model teaching and with no system in place to insure their interaction with other teachers. It is as though they are being set up for failure. Not only could such an approach hardly be viewed as a design to maximize success, it is likely that unsupported teachers will abandon the profession within their first few years of teaching. According to the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, up to one-third of new U.S. teachers leave the profession within the first few years.1 Many of the new teachers who leave cite lack of support as their reason for leaving.2 For many others it is undoubtedly the lack of success and the lack of job satisfaction that causes them to quit. Induction and support would likely have retained many of these teachers.

Many experts in education support the notion that induction programs are important to achieving quality teaching and learning. Richard Riley, the U.S. Secretary of Education, at a national forum on attracting and preparing teachers for the 21st Century held on April 17, 1997, said, "... that new teachers really are not given adequate time for student teaching—and that all too often new teachers are on their own during the first two years of teaching. We haven't created a process that gives future teachers a true sense of the American classroom—and then we leave them to fend for themselves."3 In a 1990 project for the National Center for Research in Vocational Education at the University of California Berkeley, it was found that:

The beginning teacher is involved in a fight for professional survival. Experienced teachers, school administrators, state staff personnel, and teacher educators all have the responsibility of providing assistance to ensure that survival. In our research, we have found that too little rather than too much help is the norm.4
In its report "What Matters Most: Teaching for America's Future," the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future acknowledges the problem:
Turnover in the first few years is particularly high because new teachers are typically given the most challenging assignments and left to sink or swim with little or no support. They are often placed in the most disadvantaged schools and assigned the most difficult-to-teach students, with the greatest number of class preparations (many of them outside their field of expertise) and a slew of extracurricular duties. With no mentoring or support for these teachers, it is little wonder that so many give up before they have really learned to teach. Alone in their classrooms, without access to their colleagues for problem solving or role modeling, discouragement can very easily set in.5
Not to provide induction and support is ludicrous! Just as we would consider it unconscionable to thrust physicians into practice without the proper transition through internship and residency, we should likewise consider it unconscionable to thrust new teachers into practice without providing support and mentoring. How is it, considering the importance of educating our children, that we are willing to countenance such a slipshod approach?

Bringing Them In, Keeping Them In

The educational clarion call in our nation today is for higher performing schools. If we are, in fact, going to improve our schools, then we must focus on improving our teachers. There are, of course, many issues that must be addressed related to improving teacher performance and effectiveness: teacher preparation; ongoing professional development; use of effective instructional strategies; and subject matter proficiency. Surely, however, providing new teachers with an appropriate induction into the profession and ongoing support is an absolutely necessary step toward teacher improvement and retention. New teachers must find their work rewarding and satisfying, or they will not continue to teach.

I had the opportunity this past year to serve as a mentor teacher in charge of the induction program for six new teachers at my school. It was my job to work with support teachers to ensure the day to day on-site support and to coordinate the new teachers' work with the California State Department of Education's Beginning Teachers Support and Assessment Program. The work was extremely rewarding, both personally and professionally. I would like to share a letter written to me by one of the new teachers. It reflects, I think, the value of new teacher support and induction:

Dear Jerry,
Your help this year has been invaluable. You are an excellent listener and give advice which is clear and specific and relates to all my "dilemmas at hand." All year long I have been struggling in many areas, and what has gotten me through most of the time was simply the outlet of having someone to talk to.

As a first year teacher I have had to experiment, fail, and experiment again. Your support was there, both as practical advice and as an emotional sounding board. You helped me develop teaching as well as class control techniques.

As a faculty member I have also struggled and you were there to help. Starting afresh in a world of politics and secret alliances (school personnel) I found an unmapped road. You made the effort to include me in inter-teacher relationships and picked me up after getting dumped on by some of the "maestral" villains. You also backed and guided me in my understanding of administrative procedures and communication routes. (This was huge!)

As a model you showed me how a teacher can maintain firm classroom control without jumping around like a spaz with a yardstick in his hand. You are completely self-confident, and the students I have seen know not to push it too far. This is a model I aspire to adopt one day.

As department chair, you placed pressure on your staff to give me a decent class schedule rather than working me to death on Social Studies 10, Social Studies 11, and Social Studies 12. Sometimes, having the good college prep kids is what kept me going.

As a friend you have been there from the start. You returned my emotional phone calls and e-mails immediately and gave me the kind of advice a friend and not a dispassionate contract mentor might give.

In sum, you have made what could have been an emotionally crippling first year of teaching into a muscle-hardening workout. I believe, because of this, I will come away stronger, not beaten.

Thanks for welcoming me with support and guidance as a colleague instead of hazing me as a rookie.


Wanted: Teachers for Hire

Current efforts at inducting new teachers in California fall far short of the mark. California's Mentor Teacher Program, begun in 1983, while nominally offering new teacher support, is more frequently focused on mentor projects in areas such as curriculum, technology, courses of study, and staff development. The Mentor Teacher provision to the Education Code section specifically states that, "The primary function of a mentor teacher shall be to provide assistance and guidance to new teachers. Mentor Teachers may provide staff development for teachers, and may develop special curriculum."6 All too often the primary function was inadequately met, if not ignored entirely. No guidelines were established for what the mentoring was to consist of nor was any monitoring required to ensure that new teachers were being mentored.

In establishing the Mentor Teacher program, the legislature indicated its recognition, "... that the classroom is the locus of teaching reward and satisfaction."7 They also found, however, "... that many potentially effective teachers leave the profession because it does not offer them (the) support, assistance, recognition, and career opportunities that they need."8 The Legislature was well intended when it established the mentor program, but more structure was needed to ensure that induction would, in fact, take place. In establishing the Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment Program (initiated as a pilot program in 1988 under SB 1422), the state once again acknowledged the need for new teacher induction and provided the structure that was missing in the Mentor Teacher Program; unfortunately, this program currently services only about 5.5% of its new teachers, and participation is voluntary. Governor Wilson has proposed an additional 10 million dollars of funding for this project, but, even with this increased funding, the program will only cover approximately 12% of new teachers.9

The need for new teacher induction is especially acute in California where the teacher shortage has been made critical by ever-increasing enrollment and by the K-3 class size reduction initiative. Proposals that have been put in place to deal with the shortage include several alternative methods of entering the profession, all of which sidestep the usual teacher education programs. Implementing the Class Size Reduction Program will require an estimated 20,000 additional teachers throughout the state, a figure that definitely exceeds the available pool of experienced teachers. "Many of the new teachers will be credentialed, but without any full-time experience. Others will be new teachers participating in higher education internships, recruits from alternative programs, and stopgap hirees placed in classrooms on Emergency Permits and/or Waivers of credential requirements."10

In response to this dramatic increase in the hiring of emergency teachers, former California State Senator Gary K. Hart, the director of the California State University Institute for Education Reform, commented, " As long as emergency teachers occupy California classrooms, the rhetoric of strengthening academic standards will remain hollow and hypocritical."11

Further exacerbating the teacher crunch in California is the "graying" of the California teacher corps. It is estimated that as many as 40% of California's teachers will retire in the next decade.12 Increasingly, then, California can expect to face the need to supply more and more classrooms and students with competent and committed teachers. Doing so will not only require beefing up teacher preparation and recruitment, but it also will call for a program to ensure that the new teachers, many of whom, at least in the short run, will be teaching without being fully prepared, are properly transitioned into teaching. Clearly, all new teachers need induction, but people who are coming to the classroom who have not received minimal, if any, training to be teachers will especially need assistance and support.

Widening and Deepening the Pool

There appears to be solid philosophical support for new teacher induction in California. A current assembly bill (AB 1266) seeks to expand BTSA so that by the year 2000 the program can serve all school districts and teachers within those districts wishing to participate. What needs to be decided is how induction can be provided to all of the state's new teachers (and not just those who volunteer to be inducted). In a 1985 study, "Synthesis of Research on Mentoring Beginning Teachers," it was reported that, "... unless required to request assistance, 92 percent of new teachers do not seek help."13 New teachers are often fearful that they will appear incapable if they ask for help. A formal, mandatory induction program makes it permissible to seek assistance without the fear of being stigmatized.

If we are to provide induction, it must be of high quality and effective. Consequently, it is necessary to decide just exactly what the components and provisions of the program should be. The research on induction and support suggests that effective programs:

  • Provide emotional support as well as clinical coaching and assessment,
  • Cultivate mutual support within peer groups,
  • Provide for socialization of the new teacher,
  • Focus new teachers on long-term career goals,
  • Articulate district and school norms for teacher performance and conduct,
  • Provide support teachers who can offer day-to-day support, and
  • Provide for new teacher professional development.
The program content for effective new teacher induction programs consists of the following:
  • Introduction to school personnel and school facilities and equipment,
  • Classroom management, student discipline, and professional obligations,
  • Professional development (e.g., attending professional conferences, being exposed to a variety of instructional strategies and evaluation methods),
  • Information about contract and personnel policies,
  • Information about school policies, and
  • Non-evaluative assessment using teacher standards and the peer-coaching model.14
Research also suggests that additional considerations for effective induction might include:
  • New teachers being assigned to classes which are less difficult to teach,
  • New teachers having a lighter teaching load,
  • New teachers being provided with time to interact with each other and with more experienced teachers, and having ample opportunities to observe other teachers teaching.15

There is little question about the need for new teacher induction and support. The only question is, why, if it makes so much sense, aren't we doing something about it and doing it now? The longer we wait, the more children there are who are being short-changed. The clear challenge for the state, for the legislature, and for the governor is to develop a model for delivering induction to all of California's new teachers. It should not be voluntary for districts or individual teachers: it should be mandatory.


  • Mandate new teacher induction for all of California's first and second year teachers.
  • Expand the existing BTSA Program to include all of California's first and second year teachers.
  • Another, and perhaps less costly, approach would be to revamp the existing California Mentor Teacher Program so that mentors, prior to assuming their duties, would be trained in new teacher mentoring. Mentors then should have new teacher mentoring as their sole responsibility and be assigned at a ratio of no more than five new teachers per one mentor. Districts would be required to assign their available mentors in this way until they had covered all of their new teachers with mentors at the school site level. If districts had mentorships still available after making new teacher mentor assignments, then those mentorships could have a different focus. Districts whose allotment of mentorships would not meet the needs of new teachers would be given the additional allotments necessary.
  • Yet another option would be to allow either county offices of education or school districts to design their own induction and support plans and submit them for State Department of Education approval. In this case the state should fund the program based on formula which takes into account the number of new teachers being serviced in a given school year.
  • An additional approach for easing teachers from pre-service to service might be internships, where beginning teachers, as a part of their teacher education program, would be hired to teach at a reduced salary and would receive close supervision during their first year of teaching. This approach, when good supervision is provided, should lead to more competent teaching by a new teacher. The major drawback with the internship approach is that it would seem difficult to provide the necessary supervision to large numbers of new teachers, and therefore it would not appear to be the efficient and cost-effective approach that California will need to deal with the large number of teachers who will be entering the profession over the next several years. It does, however, represent another viable alternative route to achieving a teaching credential, and California may need to offer a number of alternative methods of obtaining a credential in order to meet the need for new teachers in the 21st Century.

Clearly, an attrition rate which approaches nearly 50 percent within the first seven years of teaching and a retirement rate which may also approach 50 percent within the next decade does not bode well for meeting California's future needs for teachers. A positive step toward ensuring that California classrooms will be filled with caring and competent teachers is to provide the kind of enculturation and support for new teachers that will make teaching a more attractive career choice and will retain a much higher percentage of teachers who enter the profession.

References, Resources, and Contacts
Beginning Teachers Induction Network Newsletter, "Smaller Classes = Greater Need for BTSA," Vol. 1, Number 3, December 1996.

California State Assembly 1266 (Mazzoni) As amended June 3, 1997.

California State Department of Education, California Mentor Teacher Program. Program Advisory. Sacramento, CA: California State Department of Education, 1983. ED 241 473.

California State Teachers Retirement System (website)

CTA's Blueprint for Educational Excellence, adopted by the State Council of Education on January 12, 1997.

Current Developments in Teacher Induction Programs. ERIC Digest. Washington, DC: ERIC Clearinghouse on Teacher Education, 1986.

Defino, M. E. and J. V. Hoffman. A Status Report And Content Analysis of State Mandated Teacher Induction Programs. Report #9057. 1984. ED 251 438.

Feiman-Nemser, Sharon, "Helping Novices Learn to Teach," a paper presented at the International Study Association of Teacher Thinking; Surrey, England; September 1991.

Foster, H. L. Preventing Stress and Burnout—a Project That Worked: the New Teacher and Teacher Aide Project. Institute on Classroom Management And School Discipline, 1982. ED 223 544.
Galvez-Hjornevik, C. Teacher Mentors: a Review of the Literature. Austin, Texas: Research and Development Center for Teacher Education, 1985. SP 026-844 (NB. Most of this material appears in Journal of Teacher Education 37(1) (Jan-Feb 1986): 6-11.

Gray, W.A. and Gray M.M., "Synthesis of Research on Mentoring Beginning Teachers, Educational Leadership, 43(3), 37, 1985.

Griffin, G. A. and H. Hukill, eds. "First Years of Teaching: What are the Pertinent Issues?" Report #9051. Austin, TX: Conference Proceedings, Research and Development Center for Teacher Education, 1983. ED 240 109.

Griffin, G. A. "Teacher Induction: Research Issues." Journal of Teacher Education 36(1) 1985: 42-46.

Hall, G. E. "Induction: The Missing Link." Journal of Teacher Education 33(3) (May-June 1982): 53-55.

Putz, Barry, "Helping Beginning Teachers to Succeed, SSTA Research Centre Report, 1992.

Richardson, Joanna, "Many New Teachers in Louisiana Are Throwing in the Towel, Education Week, November 30, 1994.

Report of the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, "What Matters Most: Teaching for America's Future," September 1996.

Riley, Richard W., U.S. Secretary of Education, National Forum: Attracting and Preparing Teachers for the 21st Century, April 17, 1997.

Schlechty, P., and others. "The Charlotte-Mechlenburg Teacher Career Development Program." Education Leadership 42(4) (Dec.l984- Jan. 1985):4-8.

Schlechty, P. "A Framework for Evaluating Introduction into Teaching." Journal of Teacher Education (36)1.

Slater, Eric, Times Staff Writer, "Schools Push to Train Wave of New Teachers." Los Angeles Times, Monday, October 28, 1996.

Talbert, Allen B. "Surving the First Year of Teaching, National Center for Research in Vocational Education, University of California, Berkley, 1990.

The U.S. Department of Education, "From College to First-Year Teaching, How the United States compares to Several Other Countries," April 18, 1997

  1. Currently working as a mentor teacher in the BTSA Program (action research)
  2. Interviewed Dr. Lynn Decker, BTSA Program Director for Santa Barbara and Ventura County.
  3. Interviewed Dr. Jon Snyder, Teacher Ed., University of California Santa Barbara
  4. Interviewed Dr. Lynn Cavasos, Teacher Ed. and BTSA Staff, University of California, Santa Barbara

1. The U. S. Department of Education, "From College to First-Year Teaching, How the United States Compares to Several Other Countries," April 18, 1997, p.1.
2. Joanna Richardson, "Many New Teachers in Louisiana Are Throwing in the Towel," Education Week, November 30, 1994, p.1.
3. Richard W. Riley, U.S. Secretary of Education, National Forum: Attracting and Preparing Teachers for the 21st Century, April 17, 1997.
4. B. Allen Talbert, "Surviving the First Year of Teaching," National Center for Research in Vocational Education, University of California, Berkeley, 1990.
5. Report of the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, "What Matters Most: Teaching for America's Future," September 1996, p.39.
6. California Education Code, Section 28. Article 4 (commencing with Section 44490)
7. Ibid.
8. Ibid.
9. Assembly Bill 1266 (Mazzoni) As amended June 3, 1997.
10. Beginning Teacher Induction Network, "Smaller Classes = Greater Need for BTSA," Vol. 1, Number 3, December 1996.
11. Eric Slater, Times Staff Writer, "Schools Push to Train Wave of New Teachers," Los Angeles Times, Monday, October 28, 1996.
12. California State Teachers Retirement System, Projected Retirement.
13. Gray, W. A. and Gray, M. M. (1985) "Synthesis of Research on Mentoring Beginning Teachers," Educational Leadership, 43(3), 37.
14. Various sources: Report of the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, "What Matters Most: Teaching for America's Future," September, 1996; "Helping Novices Learn to Teach: Lessons from an Experienced Support Teacher," a paper presented by Sharon Feiman-Nemser, professor of teacher education at Michigan State University at the meeting of the International Study Association on Teacher Thinking in Surrey, England, September, 1991; "How Do We Keep Teachers in Our Classrooms? The TNT Response," March, 1993.
15. Various sources: Report of the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, "What Matters Most: Teaching for America's Future," September, 1996; "Helping Novices Learn to Teach: Lessons from an Experienced Support Teacher," a paper presented by Sharon Feiman-Nemser, professor of teacher education at Michigan State University at the meeting of the International Study Association on Teacher Thinking in Surrey, England, September, 1991.


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