Newly certificated teacher on your staff?
Many new teachers are taking their first steps into their professional life as a teacher. It can be a scary but exhilarating time for these newly qualified teachers. For the schools they have joined, there is a heightened need to ensure the best support and guidance is in place for these new teachers.
Inducting a newly qualified teacher not only into your school but also into the profession as a whole can be a daunting task. Research is full of both success and horror stories of the experiences of newly qualified teachers in their first year within the profession.
Employing a beginning teacher provides a good opportunity to check in on your induction processes and strategies. Are they working well enough for your provisionally certificated teachers? To ensure new teachers are having the best start to their professional lives, there are some important aspects to consider which have been shown to make a difference.
1. Is the mentor the right ‘fit’ for the new teacher?
There are many schools of thought on just who should be a mentor (or tutor teacher) to a new teacher. Some principals allow the teacher to choose their own mentor after spending some time within the school, some mentors are chosen on leadership capabilities (usually team/syndicate leader or AP/DP) and some mentors are picked purely because of proximity (they teach next door/are in the same teaching team). Whatever the school of thought employed, it is important to consider the needs of both the beginning teacher and that of the mentor. One thing the research is very clear about is that not all great teachers make great mentors – just because a teacher is great at teaching children does not automatically transfer into being a great teacher of an adult.
The time available for a staff member to work with the new teacher should also be taken into consideration. This is a very important role which is known to take up considerable time on occasion, so choosing a staff member who is able to dedicate this time is essential. Additionally, staff overload should be contemplated – often staff who already have leadership responsibilities or teachers who have always had the mentoring role within the school are chosen. This can often lead to burn-out or over-commitment, both of which can have a negative impact on a newly qualified teacher.
The important aspects to think through when choosing a mentor, is who is the best fit to work with this beginning teacher, who can develop a professional relationship with the new teacher but also quickly establish personal rapport. The mentor is known to be the most trusted colleague of a beginning teacher, so it is important that both personal and professional skills are considered. The mentor will be the person who assists with building institutional knowledge (who knows the school ways the best); they teach the new teacher how things work at this particular school. Learning ‘our way of being’ as a teacher is very important to the success of a beginning teacher. Feeling secure and finding their feet as a professional in that particular setting helps to build feelings of confidence and being valued as a staff member. The new teacher should feel they have a place within the experienced staff. When choosing a mentor, consider who displays strong communication skills, understands empathy and is able to not only provide support but to guide and develop the interpersonal and intrapersonal skills of the new teacher.
2. Are induction expectations clear to everyone?
It is important that the leader of the school has ensured clear expectations of what induction will look like. This is important for the beginning teacher and mentor, but also the rest of the staff to understand the support, the time being spent (both formal and incidental) and that the development of this new professional is not just the responsibility of one person. As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child, so too does it take a whole school to develop a new teacher. The induction of a newly qualified teacher belongs to all the staff, not just the mentor. A community of support is needed, including the support of the leader of the community.
Clarity around time is important so that all staff understand the structure of release/support/further development, as this can often be a contentious issue when staff see their colleague with more release time than they have. If everyone is aware of how induction time will be utilised, it reduces misunderstandings and possible negativity by other staff and teachers show more willingness to offer their support to either mentor or teacher where they can.
Clarity of how the induction programme is being offered is also extremely important. The leader of the school, the new teacher and the mentor should have a very clear plan of action as to how professional development time (release time) is utilised and each term should be mapped out to clearly show this. Within the discussion to create such a plan, the rights and responsibilities of the new teacher and mentor role should be outlined. Clarity cannot be underestimated. It is helpful if the school has guidelines or policy clearly showing their school vision of induction and mentoring and how it enacts this, resulting in clear documentation for anyone involved to refer to, including the rest of staff. Within this documentation it is helpful to consider the school’s view of navigating challenge within the induction programme – how any issues (from mentor or new teacher) will be heard, addressed and resolved is important to deliberate early, before there is any need for such measures.
3. Is the new teacher experiencing co-constructed professional development?
As discussed earlier, a clear plan of action needs to have been discussed between the leader of the school, the mentor and the new teacher. This plan must show acknowledgement that the newly qualified teacher does not come to the school as an empty vessel to be filled up, but as a burgeoning professional with clear skills and a wealth of current learning and experiences. Research shows that many beginning teachers are often treated as ‘toddlers of the profession’ and not given much credit for the skills they bring. It is important that the newly qualified teacher is treated as a respected colleague by all, that their skills are acknowledged and that there is an urgency to continue their growth and development as a teacher. It is not appropriate just to support the new teacher until they feel secure, they have a right to further their learning from the very beginning of their professional journey. This is what’s meant by educative mentoring, where a mentor not only supports the new teacher to find their way in the new school, providing on the spot support, but also providing (and insisting on) professional development opportunities. The Education Council Guidelines for Induction and Mentoring state that an educative mentor takes a developmental view of learning to teach, that they focus on supporting the new teacher to develop cognitive and reflective skills and evidence to advance learning. Educative mentoring engages new teachers in serious professional conversations and expects the development of pedagogical expertise. Thus, a clear plan of experiences, both in school and out of school, both formal and informal, should have been organised at an early stage to ensure the new teacher continues their journey of development as a professional.
4. Is there ‘buddy’ support for the new teacher?
Although there is much to be said about clarity of structure within an induction programme, there are many aspects to mentoring a newly qualified teacher. As well as planned opportunities for growth and further development, there is a necessity to have a mentor who can also be a ‘buddy’, fulfilling a ‘guide on the side’ role at times. There will be moments when the new teacher just needs someone to off-load to and this is often the mentor; they become the ‘shoulder to cry on’ as well as the ‘pick me up’ person. This ‘buddy’ style of mentoring is often seen when mentors pop in to see their new teacher regularly for a quick chat, providing on the spot support. Research shows that this type of support is just as important as professional growth for a new teacher, as without this informal, more personal support, many new teachers quickly become overwhelmed with the role, with the personal output and with the struggle of finding their feet. This can eventuate in a new teacher leaving the profession, often within their first year or two. Support for the beginning teacher should be balanced between ‘just in time’ support and planned/intentional professional growth and development.
5. Do we promote well-being in our new teachers?
Unfortunately, it is well documented that new teachers burn out quickly if not supported effectively. As with all teachers, focus needs to be balanced between the professional life and personal well-being. New teachers are known to spend exorbitant amounts of time in their work at school and sometimes, this is not well spent. Newly qualified teachers need to be taught to balance time in school and out of school – to have a personal life outside of the school, to enjoy hobbies and interests, to know that this actually makes them better teachers in the long run. For many newly qualified teachers, they have to be supported to see this as a good use of their time during their first few years within the profession. As a new professional, the personal expectations newly qualified teachers put on themselves can be overwhelming and it is an important role of the mentor to gauge when it might be necessary to step in and support the new teacher to put things in perspective. One of the most apparent times this becomes necessary is when a new teacher becomes sick but insists on coming in to school ... their class just can’t do without them, you know! It may be up to the mentor (or leader of the school) to step in and remind the teacher where to draw the line - when you’re sick, you’re sick and that’s ok! This goes a long way to alleviate stress for the new teacher, knowing that someone (a whole community hopefully) has their back and will support them in times of need. One of the main times this type of support will be necessary is when the new teacher is surviving/coping with times of over-load and stress (often seen around assessment/reporting times of the school year … and often in the winter months!). This is when the job feels like it is never done, there are never enough hours in the day and they feel completely overwhelmed. At times such as these, the school should pull together and support both the mentor (who will also be feeling the stress of the new teacher) and the new teacher. This is where an embedded school culture of promoting and valuing well-being of staff really comes to the fore. This is one of the most commonly discussed reasons why new teachers leave or stay in the profession early in their career.
The excitement of joining the profession can, for many newly qualified teachers, give way to stress and anxiety unless they are given the support they need within their first year of teaching. Being part of a school that values newly qualified teachers, that shows this by choosing appropriate, quality mentors and that spends the time to get induction and mentoring practices right, will go a long way to supporting the new teacher to actually stay and thrive in the profession. It is not about molly-coddling or creating a ‘mini-me’ in the profession, it is about giving the newly qualified teacher wings to fly, acknowledging their place in the school and the profession as a whole. It’s about giving a newly qualified teacher a map to allow them to grow further but also giving them a safety net for when the tough times come along, so they know they will be supported appropriately to get through. It’s about having a hand in growing the next generation of teachers for the profession.