Teacher mentoring key to reform in Baltimore schools

June 11, 1999|By Laura Weeldreyer and Pam Burger

SOME BALTIMORE teachers are receiving bouquets of flowers along with formal job offers from a nearby county school system.

This creative touch underscores that teacher recruitment is getting more competitive, and it's going to get worse as the expected teacher shortage worsens here and across the nation, with the retirement of many baby-boomer teachers.

Should Baltimore fight back with a floral statement of its own? Hardly.

Elizabeth Morgan, chief academic officer for the city schools, has made the recruitment and retention of high-quality teachers a top priority. A task force she convened unanimously recommended instituting a mentoring program for all first-year teachers.

This program should begin with the next school year.

Designing and implementing such a program requires the help of some of the city's star teachers -- those who may need additional responsibility, recognition and money to stay in Baltimore themselves. At a minimum, all first-time teachers should be offered the support of a talented full-time mentor to help them navigate their initial year.

The city schools already have some programs designed to recruit, hire and support new teachers, but they reach fewer than 300 teachers out of the estimated 1,000 hired every year. These programs should be expanded into a broad-based teacher support initiative.

Mentoring should be part of such a program and it must be linked with comprehensive, school-based professional development activities. Once teachers have taught for a few years, retention is key because they represent a tremendous investment by the school system.

Such a program would enhance the city schools' recruitment and retention efforts. Recruiters could tout teacher support as a key perquisite. And it will help the system hold on to many teachers who otherwise might have moved to a suburban system.

Most important, a well-done mentoring program would boost teacher quality, which research shows is the key factor in student achievement.

Also, the city schools would have made a powerful statement about teachers as a critical resource for transforming our schools, acknowledging that all of the plans or policies developed by the school board require teacher implementation.

There are a number of effective mentoring programs, some costing as much as $5,000 per new teacher. With 25 percent of our teachers leaving by the end of their first year and another 12 percent of teachers leaving by the end of their second year, it is clear that Baltimore must make this kind of long-term investment in our teachers.

The next time a teacher in Baltimore gets flowers from a suburban school system, let's give him or her a reason to think twice.

Laura Weeldreyer is the education director at Advocates for Children and Youth. Pam Burger is the educational issues director at the Baltimore Teachers Union.

Pub Date: 6/11/99

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