Mentoring Provides Crucial Support for Oregon’s Beginning Educators

Matt Kinshella is the Communications Associate at the Chalkboard Project, a nonprofit working to make Oregon K-12 public schools among the nation’s best. He does teacher outreach, media relations, and Web development for Chalkboard. Before coming to Portland, Matt worked for the Biden for President campaign and the National Council for International Visitors in Washington D.C. He has been with Chalkboard since November.

More than 100 Oregon school districts are lining up to participate in one of the state’s most progressive programs for helping kids learn – the Beginning Teacher and Administrator Mentor Program. Yet, despite the Program's overwhelming success, the funding currently being considered at the Legislature will not meet the needs of Oregon’s beginning educators.

In Oregon, 40% of teachers leave the profession in their first five years at an annual cost of $45 million. The high turnover rate is directly correlated with a lack of support and collaboration. And with 53% of Oregon public school teachers at age 50 or older, mass retirements are on the horizon. Teacher retention is a growing problem for our state.

We know teacher effectiveness impacts student achievement more than any other in-school factor, yet educator professional development budgets are being slashed. This is a bad equation for Oregon schools.

Oregon’s Educator Mentor Program, now concluding a highly successful inaugural year, was established to combat these trends. The Oregonian recently highlighted mentoring as an essential program that should not be cut by the Legislature, reporting that 99% of mentored educators will stay in the profession.

Here’s what teachers themselves say about the program:

“When I started teaching, I had no support. My deepest regret is that I wasn't the kind of teacher I could have been. Had I been mentored, the real beneficiary would have been my first grade students." Jill Davidson, Bohemia Elementary mentor

“I am a new teacher in Oregon, and am overwhelmed by the poverty and high needs of the populations that I work with. The mentor program has essentially been the only support system for myself and my colleagues this past year in learning to manage the breadth of issues that we deal with on a daily basis. If you take this support away from new teachers, you will lose us.” Shawne Sanders, special education teacher, Toledo

“Veteran teachers have so much knowledge, but they are rarely able to share it with new teachers. The Mentor Program solves this problem. My mentor Deb has helped me overcome obstacles that I never would have conquered on my own.” Tyler Stiner, first-year teacher, Lincoln City

“I went from tearing out my hair and considering going back to waitressing to one-hundred-percent, absolutely, without a doubt loving my job. I never would have gotten here without the help of my mentor and the content of the mentoring classes. I feel so much better equipped to respond to my students’ needs-- and they are responding to the positive attitude I bring into the classroom.” Jamie Chapman, Lake Oswego Junior High School

The Legislature should vote to maintain the current investment of $5 million a year for new teacher and administrator mentoring.

As novice teacher Erica Wherry pointed out in an Oregonian opinion piece: “If we’re spending $1.5 billion a year on teacher salaries, doesn’t it make sense to devote less than ½ of 1% of that to invest in one of Oregon’s most effective professional development programs?”

  • Joel H (unverified)

    Great! Mentoring sounds like an excellent practice, one that other professions do all the time. If this decreases the teacher defection rate from 40% to 1% it would be insane not to do it.

    Obviously, it can't actually do that, but this is what you imply.

    But, surely schools can just choose to practice mentoring on their own, right, coordinating it with other schools, because it's such a good idea? Why does the legislature's allocation of such a comparatively small amount (something like $4000/school) affect whether something this important gets done?

  • Mike (one of the many) (unverified)

    I think that teacher union contracts get in the way.

    In the private sector, mentoring is quite popular and successful. Mostly with professionals, who are salaried. In most companies, the best and brightest are tasked with helping with professional development. The long term results are quite rewarding - people are groomed for new responsibilities and the companies typically grow. Most mentors take on the role as an extra duty that becomes part of their job. They typically are not given extra pay to do this.

    Teachers on the other hand are in an interesting profession. On one hand, most teachers are rightfully considered as working professionals. On the other hand, they are union members with strict work rules - contracts state number of in-class days, working hours during the school day, number of parent meetings required, in-service days, etc. In other words, almost like a typical hourly wage earner. Yes, these work rules are all negotiated and part of their contracts.

    Funding is necessary over an above normal teacher pay, since mentoring requires working extra hours outside their contract.

    At some point, teachers and their union champions will have to address this conundrum in their negotiated contracts. The private sector has more flexibility to implement mentoring because strict work rules don't impede this valuable employee professional development.

    Teachers are professionals in some respect, but not when their contract work rules prevent improvement within their profession.

    I suppose the counter is that perhaps the private sector should compensate professionals who are mentors. Well, in a way they do. There are better opportunities for promotion and perhaps even higher pay scale. Faster than seniority might allow.

    Teachers on the other hand get their step increases via length of service, regardless of how helpful they might be to their peers.

    There are many teachers who do help their peers, so don't get the wrong idea about my criticism above. It's just difficult to put together a good mentoring program statewide by relying on the generosity of the few good teachers who do more than what their contract permits. At some point, though, these teachers who are so helpful may resent a few of their fellow teachers who punch out at the end of the school day when the bell rings.

  • Mrs.Todd (unverified)

    Well said Mike.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)

    Here in the Medford School District the mentoring was partially funded by a federal specific grant. It also ended the very effective at risk reading program. I don't have the correct name, but basically almost 18 experienced and tenured teachers were removed from the classroom under the guise of mentoring new teachers.

    Effective reading programs were gutted and discarded in favor of this latest flavor-of-the-month from DC and Salem. Almost $1.5MM in salries are still being spent but no longer are involved in direct interaction with students. This is insanity foisted upon Oregon via the federal dept of education.

    Hopefully Paulie Brading (who has a far better understanding of the issue) will weigh in on the subject.

  • Susan Bender Phelps (unverified)
    <h2>As a member of OSEA, I can see how one might interpret a union contract to preclude mentoring. I also know union memebers have the opportunity to let their negotiating team know what kinds of things they would like to see in the contract. A lot of creativity can be built in. That said, the current funding crisis is going to have more to do with teachers leaving the classroom than lack of mentoring.</h2>
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