The High School Journal 86.1 (2002) 15-27
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Mentoring the Beginning Teacher:
Providing Assistance in Differentially Effective Middle Schools
Pamela S. Angelle
Louisiana Department of Education
Statistics regarding the teaching profession are alarming. Over the next ten years, American school systems will need to hire an average of 200,000 K-12 teachers; in the urban and rural areas with high rates of poverty, the figure jumps to a need to hire 700,000 teachers (Fideler & Haselkorn, 1999). The estimates regarding new teachers are even more alarming.
- The annual attrition rate for beginning teachers is twice that of more experienced teachers (Odell and Ferraro, 1992).
- Fideler & Haselkorn (1999) note that 9.3% of new teachers leave before they complete the first year of teaching in public schools.
- In the 1990-1991 school year 15% of all schools, both public and private, could not fill teaching vacancies with qualified teachers and had to resort to substitutes (National Center for Education Statistics, 1997).
Trial by fire for the beginning teacher is a way of life for those novices relegated to large urban schools throughout the country. Teachers who feel overwhelmed by the system, who feel isolated in their autonomy, and who work in an environment that is dull and lifeless will be bound for other systems, one where employees can feel their work has value. Halford (1998) compares education's new professionals to those in medicine and law and ultimately calls education "the profession that eats its young" (p.33).
This article documents the socialization experiences of beginning teachers in five pairs of middle schools and explores the differences in the socialization experiences as they relate to the effectiveness of the middle school where these experiences took place. This research jointly studies school effects and teacher effects through the case study approach, building on the work of Kirby and her colleagues (1992, 1993) and Teddlie and Stringfield (1993). Understanding the role of the socialization experience as it relates to the instructional effectiveness of the new teacher can be crucial to the implementation of a school improvement plan. If the beginning experience contributes to [End Page 15] teacher effectiveness in the classroom, this will, in turn, contribute to the overall effectiveness of the school.
This study was designed to answer the question: Are there differences in the socialization experiences of beginning teachers in more effective middle schools and in less effective middle schools? Following this, what are the processes in differentially effective schools that account for these differences? What role does the quality of mentoring assistance play in the beginning socialization experience?
Schools in this study were limited to those Louisiana schools serving grades 6-8 exclusively. Some schools in Louisiana are comprehensive schools, serving grades K-8 or grades K-12. These schools were not included in this study. In addition, some schools serve grades 6-8 but are named junior high schools. These schools were included and grouped with the middle schools in the sample selection. Both middle schools and junior high schools were grouped together and were called middle schools for the purpose of this study.
Beginning teacher refers to one who had less than three years total teaching experience; that is, a teacher presently in the first or second year of teaching. While a teacher may be new to a school or new to a school district, this teacher was not considered "beginning" here. Teachers in the public school system in Louisiana are eligible for tenure after three years of teaching. Teachers examined in this study were non-tenured since the criteria for determining "beginning" was less than three years total experience.
School context will be operationalized from the definition provided by Teddlie, Stringfield, and Reynolds (2000) who state:
The study of context in SER refers to the differential effects associated with certain variables (specifically SES of student body, community type, grade phase of schooling, and governance structure) upon the scientific properties of school effects, the characteristics of effective schools, and the school improvement process (p.163).