Jack Fredericks is investing in new teachers because he wants to help them stay in the classroom for the long haul.
He serves as the program coordinator for the new teacher mentorship program in the West Tallahatchie School District, something he worked with his superintendent to create after researching mentorship as a Teach Plus Mississippi policy fellow.
“It’s kind of a weird measurement to say, ‘Well the program is successful because the teachers haven’t quit,’ but a lot of new teachers do quit in the middle of the year,” he said.
Schools across the country have struggled to keep teachers in recent years, something Mississippi is well acquainted with. For the 2022-23 school year, the Mississippi Department of Education reported 2,600 certified teacher vacancies across the state.
Fredericks said their program relies heavily on the mentoring toolkit created by the education department, tweaking it only to limit extra paperwork for teachers. Courtney Van Cleve, MDE director of teacher acquisition and effectiveness, said that the toolkit was borne out of the Mississippi Teacher Residency, an alternate route teaching certification program.
“We were creating a lot of these resources along the way… and thought that it would be a great opportunity to expand the reach of those resources,” she said.
Those resources cover mentor selection, observation schedules, professional development powerpoints and surveys for feedback.
Fredericks, who is in his fifth year teaching in the West Tallahatchie School District, said he relied on the principals at the elementary and high school to identify mentors and mentees. This year, there are three mentor pairs at the elementary school and five at the high school.
Each month, mentor pairs focus their conversations and observations on a new topic. So far, they’ve covered classroom setup and management, managing instructional time, collaboration and working with your data.
Laura Hoseman, a mentee in the program, said she appreciates the structured nature. Hoseman teaches junior and senior English at West Tallahatchie High School and said she particularly appreciated her mentor’s guidance on developing engaging lessons since students can lose interest after they pass the 10th-grade state test.
She also highlighted the sense of community among program participants and said it is a community “geared toward solutions.”
“Yes we can be critical about what I’m not, as a teacher, doing well, but not in a way where I’m going to feel undervalued,” she said. “I actually feel quite valued.”
Fredericks pointed to state and national research showing the positive impact of mentorship in keeping teachers in the classroom, citing the Mississippi Department of Education’s 2022 teacher retention survey. In it, 23% of respondents said having a formally assigned mentor when they were new teachers was the biggest reason they remained in the profession, the most popular of the responses.
Van Cleve also cited this survey, pointing to mentorship’s positive impact for the mentor teachers as well.
“Mentoring is in itself a teacher retention strategy for a lot of mentor teachers,” she said. “It’s another connection, it’s another reason, it’s another person to (expand) their school network that continues to encourage them to stay in the profession, that they have experiences and insights to offer.”
Van Cleve said a financial incentive to be a mentor can help retain teachers. The West Tallahatchie program is using federal pandemic relief money to pay mentor teachers a $2,750 stipend over the school year.
Angela Wilson, a math teacher at R.H. Bearden Elementary and a mentor in the program, said she was excited about the opportunity to build new relationships in her school and help new teachers through a hard and overwhelming time. She said she has watched significant turnover in the district and hopes this program can help stem it.
“If we have more teachers that are struggling that are afraid to say something, if we could get more people involved it would be great because that’s how we’re going to keep our teachers in the schools,” she said.
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