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Follow-Up: The Four-Letter Word That Can Help New Teachers

Kate Mulcahy

It's a four-letter word, but it's what most teachers would say when asked to name the key factor in improving our profession: Time. We need more time to plan, learn, and collaborate, so that our time with students is more effective. And it shouldn't be surprising that (as my colleagues have stated in their responses below) preservice teachers need more guided time in classrooms.

Ideally, a new teacher should develop her own craft under the guidance of a mentor. As policy expert Dana Barlin states, "One of a mentor's chief jobs is to help a new teacher close the 'knowing-doing' gap by learning to apply knowledge of best practices to daily classroom routines."

A new teacher should see educational theory applied in real time by a skilled veteran and not have to guess what it's supposed to look like in her own classroom. The knowing-doing gap can be disheartening for a new teacher who is comparing her chaotic classroom to the ideal classrooms of her teacher-education textbooks, and she could easily settle on blaming herself for her classroom short comings, questioning whether she should be a teacher at all.

Skilled veterans can also benefit from mentoring experiences. My own mentor told me that having a new teacher in her classroom kept her teaching "fresh." In my own experience, I have seen the pendulum can swing to the other extreme: after several years of teaching, even the best teacher can lose his or her connections with new techniques or technologies. A new teacher will bring new ideas.

Finally, as Anna pointed out, if new teachers had the time to develop their skills under the leadership of a mentor, students might not suffer the growing pains. Right now, most new teachers (62 percent, by one estimate) feel underprepared. Consider this next to the fact that 50 perce3nt of teachers leave the profession after only five years (nice—if sobering—stats, Linda!). By not taking the time to fully prepare our new teachers, it's clear that we are setting them up to fail.

Now, I'm no statistician, but I know that this situation adds up to trouble for our kids—who matter most, and would most benefit from new teachers having more quality time in a mentor's classroom. They would have confident, capable teachers who would be there—more than a year or two—to support their students. The only question is will our profession move itself out of the current broken teacher-educational model? Seems like only time will tell.

Kate Mulcahy, a Boettcher Teachers Program graduate, has taught for five years as an English & English-Language Learner teacher at Northglenn High School in Colorado.

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