University of Houston-Clear Lake’s School of Education and the Texas State Teachers Association-Student Program are testing a pilot program that teams retired teachers with intern teachers who are getting their first experience in the classroom. The goal is to provide an additional level of experienced support for new, aspiring teachers, which in turn can help reduce on-the-job stress that contributes to a high attrition rate among new educators. Nationally, attrition among first and second year teachers is estimated to be as high as 46 percent.
The pressure and stress new teachers face today is much greater than it was when retired science teacher, Sherrie Matula, first began her career in the late ’70s. Matula, who is one of the pilot program mentors, says it was difficult to even get a job in teaching when she began because no one was leaving the profession.
“Today the pressure is so great,” says Matula. “And the people you are working with are so under stress that they don’t have time to mentor you or to work with you, or sit down and say, here’s what you need to do.”
This is especially true if the new teacher is in an area or subject that is tested within the first six to nine weeks of school, she says.
“This program is a win, win, win,” explains UHCL Associate Professor of Teacher Education and Instructional Design & Technology Jana Willis, who is helping coordinate the pilot program. “Our teacher candidates are able to connect with teachers who possess this level of teaching experience, while the mentors are able to stay connected with their lifelong careers. But the ones who will benefit the most from this amazing partnership are the young students who will be taught by our future teachers.”
The TSTA-SP pilot program, based on a similar successful approach in Nebraska, is completely informal in the sense that there are no required meetings between the mentors and mentees, no reports or grades. The retired teachers are available whenever the interns feel the need for advice or support from an experienced professional--someone they know will not judge, evaluate, or grade them.
UHCL’s School of Education already has in place its nationally-recognized Pre-service Internship I and II program which requires teacher candidates to complete a full year in the classroom as their responsibilities gradually increase. The interns are also paired with classroom teachers who act as mentors. This program is credited with helping UHCL graduates buck the national attrition trend with a low attrition rate.
The TSTA-SP retired teacher mentor program provides an additional layer of mentoring support, which is outside the university’s evaluation system. Paige Turner, who is beginning Intern II after completing Intern 1 with Matula as her retired teacher mentor, had high praise for the pilot program, and for Matula. The assigned teacher in the university’s pre-service program acted as an academic mentor, explains Turner. The teacher provided instructions on how to teach, how to complete a lesson plan, etc., while the retired teacher mentor became more like a friend.
“We got to know each other personally,” says Turner. “She became kind of a friend with experience. I feel confident to go into Intern II because I have her by my side and all of her experience. I have someone that I have built such a good bond with that I can ask questions. She’s there to help you, not criticize you because you don’t know how to do something right.”
From her personal experience, Turner says she believes it can help with the teacher burn out rate.
TSTA-SP is testing the program at UHCL, with the intention of expanding it first at the University of Texas at El Paso, and then throughout the state.
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University of Houston-Clear Lake offers more than 80 undergraduate and graduate degree programs, including a doctoral program, from its four schools, which include the School of Business, School of Education, School of Human Sciences and Humanities, and School of Science and Computer Engineering. In 2011, the university gained approval from the state to add freshman- and sophomore-level courses to its roster and is currently planning for its first freshman class in fall 2014. For more information about the university, visit http://www.uhcl.edu.