Teachers Helping Teachers
STORY BY CHAKRIS KUSSALANANT AND ALLISON MCGOWAN
Being a new teacher can be hard and intimidating. Teachers are thrust into a classroom and expected not just to master the subject matter, but also manage their classroom effectively from day one. Despite rigorous training and education, this quick transition can be jarring.
In Springfield Public Schools (SPS) new teachers are not alone. When a new teacher joins the district, they are supported by a team of seasoned staff, mentors and coaches.
The SPS Mentoring and Induction Program aims to support new teachers for their first three years and in doing so, support their nascent careers and the performance of all district schools. Developed in 2013 through a collaborative effort with university partners, the SPS Mentoring and Induction Program aligns with the district's focus on quality instruction and the Research for Better Teaching initiative. It has evolved into a three-year model that involves experienced teachers and instructional coaches, emphasizing a comprehensive approach to improve teaching practices.
“In Springfield when you are a first-year teacher you are paired with a mentor, usually a veteran teacher who has honed their craft and chosen to take a leadership role to help teachers into the profession,” explained Whitney McKinley, teaching and learning director at SPS.
The SPS Mentoring and Induction Program takes a holistic approach to supporting first-time teachers. Mentors go through a rigorous training to learn how to support and advise adult learners and the particular challenges of being in the classroom for the first time. New teachers, in turn, get access to professional learning communities and a culture that promotes collegiality. In addition, the program provides mentors with building-based instructional coaches throughout the school year.
“When we select a mentor, we’re looking for someone who views the job as a never-ending learning process,” says Josh Jordan, district high school instructional coach. “We’re looking for people who are collaborative with their principal, their building coach, district directors, and other teachers. Our mentors are people who can walk alongside first-year teachers and give them not only the emotional support they need, but also help them with the technical responsibilities they need to fulfill.”
Springfield Public Schools has more than 500 certified teachers. The SPS Mentoring and Induction Program has 95 trained mentors in its system and 20 instructional coaches throughout the district. During the 2022-23 school year, the mentorship program assisted 45 new first-year teachers, many of them recent college graduates.
For Riley Johnson, a first grade teacher at Douglas Gardens Elementary School and SPS Mentoring and Induction Program alum, the experience made a huge impact at the beginning of her career at SPS and allowed her to build a long-lasting friendship with her mentor, Teresa Page.
“When you are new you have a million questions,” says Johnson. “You don’t want to bug people and your mentor is there to help out and make you not feel so alone. You can feel very isolated in your own classroom.”
Johnson already had four years of experience teaching fifth grade before she joined SPS in 2021, but she knew nothing about teaching first grade in a different school and district. Page gave Johnson a number of resources to get started with her new classroom and model things differently for her specific grade. That initial mentorship and support was instrumental for Johnson, who now has a complete school year under her belt.
For her side, Page feels she learns a lot from new teachers, especially those who are recent college graduates, as they bring with them new approaches and an awareness of technology tools. Page recalls her own entry-level teaching experience as a small reading group specialist 20 years ago, for helping shape her awareness and classroom management style, as it allowed her at the time to see how other teachers and assistants conducted themselves in different classes. However, while she valued the exposure to different people and models, she never formally had a mentor herself. She had to learn her craft on her own.
“Most of the time teachers are given a very large group of students in a classroom and they need to be ready to go. And it is very difficult,” says Page. “Our mentorship program is really helpful in giving new teachers all of the support they need to be successful in their classrooms.”
Thinking about becoming a teacher? Check out the latest certified job postings and launch your teaching career with Springfield Public Schools.