'Induction' flops for first-year teachers

First-year teachers who work with mentors, receive extra training and observe experienced teachers don’t outperform other new teachers, concludes a Mathematica study.  Researchers looked at two high-intensity induction models that cost considerably more than the support new teachers typically get.

Findings from the first year showed that although treatment group teachers received significantly more mentoring, received more guidance on instructional practices, and spent more time in certain professional activities than did control group teachers, there were no impacts on teacher practices, based on in-classroom observations of literacy lessons. In addition, the more intensive support had no positive impact on student test scores or teacher retention in the first year.

You’d think there would be some benefit. Teachers, do you have a theory why mentoring and support didn’t make a difference?

The teachers will be followed for two more years to see if there are effects that don’t show up in the first year.

Update: Training doesn’t solve every problem, writes Jay Greene.

Eduwonk wonders if we need a radical redesign of how teachers are trained.

About Joanne


  1. Er, lousy mentors and phony support? With only one exception, the mentors who came into my classroom, whether for me or other teachers, were not exactly what I would describe as dynamic master teachers. At their worst, it was just one more person to put on a show for. Nobody ever had an answer for the questions that really matter: how do I get this kid to stop acting out and beating up other kids? How do I get that kid engaged with what we’re doing in the classroom? And how am I supposed to differentiate instruction, when I’ve got kids on a functional level from kindergarten to 6th grade?

  2. I would think there would be a benefit to retention, which could ultimately justify the cost; I’d be hesitant to call it a flop until you’d followed it for at least five years, although it may have failed with regard to the main objective.

    And yeah, I agree with the above — what kind of training did the mentors get? How were they matched? Were the “guidance” and “professional activities” standard stupid professional development with no context, relevance, follow-up, or depth?

  3. Lightly Seasoned says:

    I don’t know that I would expect to see increased quality of instruction — the first year is all about surviving no matter how much support you get — but I would expect better retention. I’d be interested in seeing the 3-year data. Quality would also be important. I’ve mentored a number of new colleagues — it’s mostly a lot of counseling about frustrations and classroom management and throwing lesson plans at them. The conversations don’t really become about teaching quality until the second year.

  4. The executive summary is pretty complete. There was a fairly extensive training for the mentors (4 two-day sessions) and it looked like pretty tight quality control. It did not address the “stupidity” of the professional development, but it did include both trainings and group meetings. Mentors met with their mentees for two hour a week.

    The study will continue through 3 (I believe) years. A portion of the group will continue through a second year of induction and the entire group as well as the controls will be monitored for ongoing differentiation.

  5. Roger Sweeny says:

    I remember two things from my first year that were remarkably helpful. One was a presentation by and discussion with an experienced teacher that we newbies had regarding how to handle parent-teacher conferences. “Begin by saying something good about the student. Don’t say the student is stupid; say she has difficulty understanding or something else that is accurate but not off-putting. Start by assuming you and the parent are on the same team; you both want the student to succeed.” And so on. An hour and a half well spent.

    The other was a short presentation and longer question and answer (less than two hours overall) from a former college admissions official about what they look for in letters of recommendation.

    Both of these were practical and full of specific, useful information.

    Alas, most of our “new teacher induction” was ed school light. If that’s what the “guidance on instructional practices, and … time in certain professional activities” was, I am hardly surprised it didn’t do any good.

  6. My first year I had three or four formal mentors (the iffy fourth was a TFA program director, who really didn’t serve in the traditional “mentor” role)! My best mentor was from a small program that had a partnership with my school; we met probably ten times during the year. Even with that intensive (and fruitful) help, 99% of the time was just me and my kids. I really am a big believer that a lot of your year is defined by the first two weeks, and the first two weeks are rocky for just about all first year teachers. I do feel like the lessons I learned from my best mentor helped me a lot afterwards. The findings of this study don’t actually surprise me, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to hope that their findings next year will be more positive.

  7. Also my worst mentor was provided directly by my district – she showed up exactly once… in February. If my district was included in this study that’s the problem right there. The closer my mentors were to the school, the better they were.

  8. mike curtis says:

    Mentors? Why? Advice is usually free.

  9. As a career-changer who just escaped induction, I have strong feelings about this. I spent FAR too much time doing induction busy work that had nothing to do with what my district wanted me to do in my classroom. I was exhausted, and I had no time to prepare adequately to actually TEACH due to mountains of paperwork, required meetings, and portfolio after portfolio that I had to complete.

    I am 44 years old and changed from a high-paying, demanding career that I loved, because I wanted to teach. Induction very nearly drove me from the profession. It was the most miserable two years of my life. It would have been much better to have had a less formal relationship with a mentor, who I could ask questions as they arose.

  10. The big surprise for me was no difference in teacher attitudes. I’m not a teacher but was on a school board for a long time. At one point the superintendent made a special effort to get a couple of great teachers out of the classroom to support beginning teachers. We had a lot of favorable (anecdotal) feedback. This study shows no difference between a special program and the usual programs in 17 districts. The researchers present some correlations (not causal ) between better results and good mentoring (occurring in both usual and special programs) I conclude the existing programs aren’t that bad or the special program isn’t that good.
    One thing they did not report that would be good to see: any data showing major differences in the effectiveness of their 44 mentors.

  11. I am so glad to read these entries, as I am a current student in pursuit of my Elementary Ed. degree. Many of my friends who have completed their induction had mixed feelings about the program. In a way, they enjoyed having a dedicated mentor that could answer the questions not answered in a college classroom (and there are many), yet some felt the same as McSwain, in that much of their time was spent on senseless busy work that distracted them from what was actually expected of them. Also, some experienced the same lack of interest from their mentor, as if the mentor was being forced to “babysit” the new teacher. FOr myself, I feel like I would need the guidance. Not because I have a lack of confidence, but merely because my inexperience could make me a liability. It looks better, and possibly is better to have someone who can be more vocal on your behalf due to their position in the school system. I also agree that the mentors need to be relevant to your school and your subject in order for it to be beneficial. I hope when I graduate, a program exists for me to explore the things that are not taught in college, and that I will have access to high-performing teachers who are interested in what I have to offer as well. Interesting article.

  12. I’m trying to recall whether I’ve ever been through an ed program that didn’t degenerate into sanctimony and cant. . .

    . . .still thinking. . .

  13. My first-year mentor was a very nice woman, but we didn’t have time to talk about what was actually going on in the classroom. Every time she and I met, we had to fill out cumbersome paperwork from the DoE. I had to determine, in various areas of teaching, whether I was “beginning,” “applying,” “integrating,” or “innovating” (I think there was a fifth stage in there somewhere), and I had to provide “evidence.”

    Nothing can match the informal mentorship of a wise person. No system can provide that gift. However, they can lift some of those paperwork requirements so that mentor and teacher have an opportunity to talk.

  14. Tom Linehan says:

    First of all bureaucratic policies like this seldom work. The study is not surprising. The comments confirm this.

    We need incentives. You touched on one. Have the students of a new teacher take tests that veteran teachers whose students do well on most tests use. Most great teachers have a drawer full of questions that they have found to be valid. Use the results of tests to evaluate new teachers. Get rid of new teachers who do not teach.

    New teachers will have an incentive to seek out effective teachers so that they can learn to teach and so that they can keep their job. This is not a novel approach. Most new employees in any job do just that.

    To many outsiders like myself who have observed education for years, education is riddled with fads, unworkable bureaucratic policies and disincentives. I used to call education a galloping glacier. There is lots of rumbling and movement; but no real progress..

  15. I had AWFUL school and district mentors in my first two years of teaching. My TFA mentor was outstanding and I sought out other mentors in the district who I saw delivering exceptional instruction. I remember that the mentor of another first year teacher still didn’t know her correct name in May. They didn’t meet once the entire year, and the mentor teacher was still able to cash her $2000 check for mentoring.

  16. A lot of times the mentors are already overworked and therefore don’t have enough quality time to help the ones they are mentoring. It helps if they have the same subject, schedule, and planning period. Plus, some of the benefits are probably not measured.

  17. I take issue with the claim that this (and other interventions) would work if only we trained people more to implement it well in my post here: http://jaypgreene.com/2008/10/29/the-infinte-regress/ .

    I’m not denying that such training is important. I just think the focus on increasing training neglects problems with incentives and the motivation of educators to learn effective techniques and implement them well. Lack of information is not the only problem.

  18. I started my student teaching at one high school, where I had one mediocre master teacher and one very bad one – she refused to meet with me and discuss lesson planning outside of class. The very bad one asserted that I should know everything about lesson planning already since I had completed all my credential classes. She was not only non-supportive, but even hostile when I asked for help. Due to reasons related to paperwork, I left that school. This was a blessing in disguise.

    The next semester, I went to another high school. I had one mediocre mentor, and one truly great one. The great one was a wonderful teacher and was very involved in my training. To the degree that I am a good teacher, I owe much of skill to her. I have often wondered how bad a teacher I would now be if I had not been lucky enough to have met her.

    Almost all of what I learned in my teaching credential classes was useless or nearly so. My experience with that one great master teacher taught me far more about teaching. The quality of the mentor makes all the difference in the world.


  19. I have a theory, sort of. My theory is that the field of education has not evolved a language, or a vocabulary, of what we do. I have long felt that there are plenty of good teachers around, but in general good teachers are no good at all at explaining, or even describing, what they do. A good teacher may know what to do in a given situation, but with a lack of basic language and vocabulary about teaching, can communicate that knowledge only in that given situation. I have expanded this idea here.

    When I started graduate school in math, the graduate assistants who were teaching were required to take a one hour course on the teaching of math. This course was from the math department, not the education department. It was an okay course in many ways. The teacher gave us some practical ideas on testing, and a little bit of practical information on organizing the college algebra course we were teaching. But what really impressed me was that week after week she would simply cancel the class. So long as problems did not develop for the graduate assistants, she apparently felt we had nothing to talk about. Of course I like that priority in one way. She pretty well left us alone. She placed no demands on us, and that was good. But I also felt it was a tremendous waste of potential. I could have filled that time with no trouble whatsoever.

    The teacher of this course had managed to get a masters degree in education along with her doctorate in math. What did she learn in this masters curriculum? Why didn’t she have anything to impart to us? She didn’t try to be a mentor to us, and that was good. But must we conclude that the best we can do for new teachers is just to leave them alone?

    I don’t want to make it a knee jerk habit to blame everything on ed school, but I do feel I am forced again and again to two conclusions. One, as I mentioned above, is that many good teachers are no good at all in explaining or describing what they do. That would not be the case if ed school really had substance. My second conclusion, which does a lot to explain the first conclusion, is that ed school has chosen ideology, not analyses, as it’s foundational basis. I have expanded this idea here.

  20. Roger Sweeny says:

    McSwain reminded me of something I had blessedly forgotten. As a first year teacher, the one thing you never have enough of is time. “New teacher induction” programs take time. If they don’t provide you with a significant amount of something that you don’t already have, they are WORSE WORSE WORSE!than useless. (Those capitals were my first year memories flooding back.)

  21. Roger Sweeny says:

    Brian Rude,

    We may not have a vocabulary but we certainly have jargon.

  22. Amy in Texas says:

    I never saw any new teacher mentoring doing much in my school. Everyone
    I was forced to have three mentors my first year: my school, my district and my alt. cert. program. One was, and still is, very helpful but the others were a useless drag on my time.
    I had to seek out my own mentors and friends to actually learn how to survive, like with any job.

  23. Mentorship is overrated and probably totally unhelpful except as a sounding board for frustrations or triumphs. Outside of methodology, one’s unique personality is so overwhelmingly involved in being a teacher that mentors change very little to nothing in your becoming a better teacher. Expect the first year of teaching to be hell. No mentor’s going to make it better. You’re on your own. Having a good sense of humor and the ability to act (James Cagney would have made a great teacher) pay off in spades. If your personality has been endowed with plasticity, and you can change like a chameleon within the school’s prevailing culture, you can be a star. Loving the kids and experiencing joy when you’re with them is a necessity. Everything I mentioned above comes a priori and cannot be taught or imparted by a mentor or any other earthling.

  24. Your headline is way over the top, Joanne. Nothing flopped. This is the first year of a three-year evaluation. There was an absence of statistically significant effects based on a one-year-long induction treatment.

    As you know, I work for the New Teacher Center. Even our own analyses don’t suggest nor have we as an organization promised an impact in one year, let alone the first year of implementation of a brand new program in a school or district. It takes at least two years for induction to impact practice and student learning. The benefits are long-term. It’s why we run a two-year induction program. One year doesn’t cut it. It’s important to note that a two-year treatment was added to the Mathematica study after it was underway to take a close look at multi-year induction–and not just a single-year treatment.

    Check out today’s Ed Week story for a more balanced take on the Mathematica study: http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2008/10/30/11induction.h28.html

  25. Ponderosa says:

    I reckon that the extra red tape associated with mentoring programs (like California’s BTSA) pushes many beginning teachers, already overburdened with work, to the verge of a nervous breakdown. I think beginning teachers should get full pay for a half-day’s class load, be given a high-quality scripted curriculum to use if they wish, and have mentors watch them teach everyday. Free massages would not be unreasonable either. I’m serious –let’s invest in developing a quality teaching force.

  26. Downtowner says:

    Teachers, do you have a theory why mentoring and support didn’t make a difference?

    The mentoring and support tend to focus on teacher-driven behavior. In a classroom, reality is give and take not teacher-driven exchange. Students are not compliant, disruption happens, and the kids have to be convinced to have fun learning. Just one or two hecklers in a high school class, one or two talkers in middle school, or one or two immature behavior kids in an elementary classroom can effectively destroy the day’s lesson. You have to learn how to coerce the disruptor into helping you teach, and if that fails you have to learn how to suppress the disruption with the help of peer pressure. This means understanding child psychology.

    Mentoring and support does not deal with the psychology of the kid in the room. Instead, they focus on maneuvering the thinking and behavior of the teacher, because that is what a district can control relatively cheaply. It is also what can be measured easily (Did the teacher demonstrate the use of strategy X or not?). Psychology classes are not required for teachers. Yet, I believe that over half of the effort in an effective classroom is based on understanding the behavior motives of the kids.

    No matter how much mentoring and support a teacher gets, until he or she learns to “read” the kids and to see behavior patterns for what they are, the kids aren’t going to focus on the lesson when it is so much more interesting to “play” the teacher. I don’t see mentoring and support changing any time soon, when it is so much cheaper to focus on manipulating how the teacher teaches instead of focusing on how to make the students learn even when they do not want to do so.