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New Teachers Can Learn From New Doctors

With the fall semester around the corner, it's an opportune time to ask if hospitals have something important to teach public schools.  Recognizing that even the best new medical school graduates have little clinical experience with patients, hospitals are beginning to implement formal "escalation-of-care" policies ("A Better Safety Net for Young Doctors," The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 9). 

What these policies aim to do is to reassure new residents that calling for help from senior physicians is no indication of their incompetence.  In fact, it is just the opposite.  I maintain that a similar approach needs to be taken in public schools for new teachers in particular.  Whatever they have learned in their student teaching as part of the requirements for a license is rarely enough to prepare them for the realities of the classroom.

The trouble is that new teachers are reluctant to ask for help from veteran teachers.  They're afraid that doing so will be held against them during their pre-tenure year evaluations.  When I was working on my California teaching credential in the mid 1960s, my training teacher happened to be the English coordinator at UCLA.  He was an outstanding mentor during that period, and continued to be a source of great support during my first few years in the classroom.  I was extremely fortunate to have had him in my corner. 

I think all new teachers need someone similar. It's not that veteran teachers can't also profit from the same resource persons, but they're more likely to have built friendships among their colleagues during their many years in the classroom. In light of the high teacher turnover rate during the first five years, the need is urgent.  It would be interesting to design a study comparing turnover rates between teachers with mentors and teachers without them.  Just as patients have benefited from escalation-of-care policies, I think students will also benefit.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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