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Teacher program shows ‘newbies’ the ropes

Updated: 
April 6, 2014 - 12:05am

Elise Pak graduated last year from the University of Hawaii at Hilo’s post-baccalaureate Teacher Education Program. She became a teacher because she wants “to make a direct impact on kids’ lives.”

Though enthusiastic about her first day at Paauilo Elementary &Intermediate School, 32-year-old Pak was also anxious. A newbie in the profession, Pak admitted to feeling initially uncertain about whether she would be able to successfully apply her knowledge gained during college, handle the classroom realities, and reach every student.

As the months passed, her confidence grew in part because of seasoned teacher Gerald Garley. “It was a great relief knowing that I could lean on him and he was always available for any extra support I needed,” she said.

Garley listened to her frustrations, challenges and goals during one-on-one meetings, as well as conducted classroom observations — all of which helped Pak navigate and flourish in her first year of teaching. Pak said her success is directly related to the thoughtful guidance provided by the West Hawaii Teacher Induction &Mentoring Program.

Now in its third year, this comprehensive program strives to improve the retention of quality teachers in the profession, strengthen leadership for veteran teachers and effectiveness of novices, and improve student learning. It’s part of a statewide induction effort implemented through Race to the Top in 2011, said Sandy Cameli, WHTIMP coordinator.

Grooming effective and lasting teachers is a daunting challenge. According to Hawaii Department of Education data, in 2011, “56 percent of Hawaii’s public school teachers left the profession within their first five years of teaching at an annual cost between $4 million and $29 million to the DOE.”

WHTIMP is among the programs trying to combat such high turnover rates by mentoring teachers during their first three years on the job. While retention is a goal, it’s not the main purpose, officials say.

“Our immediate focus is on accelerating the effectiveness of beginning teachers to improve student achievement,” said Donalyn Dela Cruz, director of the state DOE’s Communications and Community Affairs Office. “Research supports our belief that a comprehensive induction program can positively impact long-term rates; however, more time is needed to accurately determine the program’s impact on retention in Hawaii.”

WHTIMP is a revamp of what was previously offered. In the past, complex area superintendents typically developed and ran their own induction and mentoring programs, some of which were better than others. For five years, public school teachers in the West Hawaii Complex Area had the Kahua Induction Program, which incorporated Native Hawaiian culture and culturally responsive teaching practices.

A state law mandated DOE establish a statewide teacher induction program available to every newly hired teacher and that the beginning teacher to mentor ratio is no greater than 15 to one. Statewide, approximately 1,400 teachers are in their first or second year, while 430 are in their third year, Dela Cruz said.

Statewide teacher induction standards also went into effect. These standards “ensure quality and consistency” in supporting Hawaii’s beginning teachers. This focus on induction also led to policy changes in the Hawaii State Teachers Association Contract and Board of Education Policy, Dela Cruz said.

All complex areas received $100,000, and the state provided mentor training, networking opportunities and support via the Race to the Top grant. Complex areas also received a staff member or team to lead their program, as well as support from national nonprofit New Teacher Center, Dela Cruz said.

WHTIMP’s team includes two special education mentors Patti Robinson and Renee Caton, who support all new special education teachers in West Hawaii. Cameli said new teachers in Teach For America do not participate in WHTIMP, and instead, get mentors provided by that nonprofit organization.

Cameli said WHTIMP provides a support system for mentees that includes working with a highly skilled, trained mentor. Most mentors are teachers or other school staff who voluntarily coach these novices in addition to their other duties.

These mentors meet with their assigned first- or second-year teacher for at least one hour a week, providing guidance in developing a professional growth plan while also helping them problem solve, deliver lessons and pick up classroom management tricks. It is often during these sessions that new teachers can express doubt or admit mistakes — all of which is kept confidential — without fear of embarrassment or repercussions. These mentors become confidants, concerned only with helping mentees and students success in the classroom. Such partnerships were showcased Friday during the iMentor Showcase in the Queens’ MarketPlace conference rooms.

Throughout the year, participants attend forums, which provide opportunities to network, share ideas and hear guest speakers. They also complete surveys, logs and evaluations.

Technology was incorporated this year through district-issued iPads. The mentor and mentee used the iPad to boost communication and record-keeping, bridge the technology-divide between generations, and to complete a project that chronicled a year of a new teacher.

Cameli thinks WHTIMP gives the novices “roots and wings.” She said the roots are the nourishment, support, stability, foundation and, more importantly, the confidence or strength to succeed. The wings, she added, give mentees the perspective and action to not only help them fly, but also to deal with the unexpected storms of life.

As for the mentors, Cameli said they often blossom side-by-side with their mentee, whether it’s by learning, sharing or refining. She added, some find the mentor-mentee relationship is “almost like a second chance” or a reminder of why they got into the profession.

Every beginning teacher in this comprehensive three-year program gets two years of intensive mentoring, typically with the same mentor. WHTIMP currently has about 40 first- and second-year teachers with school-based mentors or district-level supports. However, an additional 50 third-year teachers are also being monitored or have access to resources and assistance via requests, Cameli said.

Cameli said WHTIMP is hoping to expand the resources because the number of participants is anticipated to double. Complex area officials estimate there will be approximately 65 to 75 new teachers next school year, mostly because veteran teachers are retiring. More mentors will be needed to support them and the New Teacher Center has provided three training sessions this spring to help grow the mentor pool, she added.

WHTIMP recently received a letter of recognition from U.S. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard.

“As educators, you all have taken a great responsibility. Each of you has made a commitment to help shape the minds — and essentially the lives — of Hawaii’s keiki. Your collaborative approach provides valuable resources to fellow educators and ultimately creates a richer environment within which our future leaders can grow and learn,” Gabbard wrote.

For more information about WHTIMP, call Cameli at 323-0015 ext. 255 or visit whtimp.org.