Beginning teachers need support – without having to pay for it

October 6, 2015
Ellen Moir

Ellen Moir

A bill sits on Governor Brown’s desk that not only has the potential to support the development of a world-class teaching force for California’s students, but to right a wrong currently imposed by the state on many new teachers.

The bill, Assembly Bill 141, is focused on making sure beginning teachers – who face a steep learning curve and low salaries in their first years – get the mentoring support they need to truly improve student learning, without having to pay for it themselves.

Once new teachers have completed a teacher preparation program, California policy requires them to participate in a two-year mentoring program in which they get support from more experienced, skilled coaches. They need to complete this in order to convert the preliminary credential they are first issued to a “clear” or permanent credential within five years.

But while California requires teachers to enroll in such a program, it doesn’t require districts or schools to actually provide it – or pay for it. The state once gave districts dedicated funds to underwrite these programs but essentially eliminated this support in the budget cuts during the Great Recession. As a result, in some districts teachers actually have to pay out of their own pockets – sometimes as much as $2,500, or more than 5 percent of the average starting salary – to meet this state requirement.

As someone who has helped school districts meet the needs of their newest educators for more than two decades, I can tell you that highly effective mentoring programs are critical to student achievement. Just as doctors benefit from medical residencies after earning their degrees, beginning teachers also need further guidance through on-the-job mentoring from an accomplished, well-prepared peer. This is also referred to as “teacher induction,” as teachers are inducted into the profession via regular mentoring. Mentors provide them with relevant feedback and counsel when they need it most. When new teachers receive support via a sustained, rigorous and individualized mentoring program focused on helping them become more effective more quickly, students benefit.

This type of support is vital for the growth of our new teachers and the success of their students, but it’s unacceptable that some districts are asking teachers to pay for it themselves. In other states that require new teacher mentoring and induction programs, the cost is typically covered by the district and/or the state, not by individual teachers. At a time where teachers are underpaid, housing costs are increasing and California has intense teacher shortages, we should be doing more to help teachers succeed. AB 141 takes a modest step in that direction by prohibiting districts from charging beginning teachers to participate in a required program – and Gov. Brown, who has consistently spoken out on behalf of teachers, should sign it.

Teacher induction and mentoring benefits educators, students and taxpayers through increased student achievement, reductions in teacher turnover and reductions in district recruitment costs. So this expense must be borne by our educational system, not placed on the backs of our newest teachers.

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Ellen Moir is founder and chief executive officer of the New Teacher Center, a national nonprofit organization working to improve student learning by accelerating the effectiveness of teachers and school leaders, especially in underserved areas.

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