One of the most daunting challenges facing urban public school districts is how to keep new teachers on the job. Across the country, more than half of beginning educators leave within their first three years in city schools .
But there's one city in Massachusetts that's found a way to keep them in the classroom. WBUR's Monica Brady-Myerov visits Lawrence to learn about its success with a local support program.TEXT OF STORY
MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: In the teacher's lounge, John Fichera is planning how to discuss Romeo and Juliet with his 9th grade English class. He gets help from Evangelina Diaz a 35 year veteran teacher.
JOHN FICHERA AND EVANGELIA DIAZ: a couple people commented she sounds like my mother sometimes, yes, because I say john don't do this and try never to do to this, its' true they've heard us talking. it sounds like your mother is giving you instructions on what to do.// its' a good relationship you gotta sort of build a bond a trust and when you can get there you can ask anything you need.
BRADY-MYEROV: In his first year of teaching at Lawrence High school Fichera says he's needed his mentor a lot. Diaz has helped him with everything from managing disruptive behavior to lesson planning. They are part of a district run program for all new teachers — even those who have taught in other school systems. This year it pairs 60 new teachers with a mentor in their school who is teaching the same grade or subject area. The mentor, who is paid a small stipend, contacts the new teacher weekly, observes them in class, and is a near-by trouble shooter.
LYNDA JOHNSON: The first year is the survival year.
BRADY-MYEROV: Lynda Johnson directs the masters teaching program at Simmons College. She helps to run the Lawrence mentor program.
JOHNSON: They need support taking theory to practice, they need support in acculturation. And almost as important is psychological support. It's such a major transition if you're a doctor you have an internship with a whole program developed around you//as a teacher your first day is the same as your last day of work.
BRADY-MYEROV: Massachusetts, along with 32 other states, requires districts to have a teacher induction and mentoring program, but they vary in quality and content. Six years ago, before Lawrence started the program, half of the new teachers left after their first year. Now, on average 85% stay. And after three years, 62% are still in the classroom in Lawence, that's 12% above the national average. Wilfredo LaBoy is the superintendent.
WILFREDO LABOY: There's been enough whining and complaining going on in this country about we can't retain teachers. We've proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that as an urban school district that if you give teachers support they will stay with you.
BRADY-MYEROV: Superintendent Laboy says there's value in supporting new teachers, even though the intensive mentoring program costs the district $200,000. He points out the district spends up to $50,000 to recruit, hire and train one new teacher. And Laboy says one of the most important factors in student performance is the quality of their teachers.
LABOY: every student deserves a good teacher and for too long in America urban systems have not been the place where most. We have great teachers and we have good teachers but we don't have enough of them and we've had a hard time staffing.
BRADY-MYEROV: Research shows that many new teachers leave after the first year because of a lack of support and poor working conditions. They rank pay as the third reason for leaving. Gary Marcoux, heard about these problems when he was president of the teachers union in Lawrence. Now he is the district's mentor facilitator.
GARY MARCOUX: one of the new teachers came up to me and said that they've never felt so alone in a building that had 175 teachers in it. That really stuck with me.
BRADY-MYEROV: At monthly workshops, teachers new to Lawrence, such as Kindergarten teacher Jean Zeretti, share stories from their classroom.
JEAN ZERETTI: Yesterday a child in my class who is a selective mute spoke to me for the first time. That was huge. We were just playing a game and I said who would like to come play with me and she walked over near me. I thought she can't be coming near me. She sat right down played the game and talked to to me. I don't know why or how. I started crying, I left the room and cried. Awe
BRADY-MYEROV: It's moments like these that teachers say make them want to stay in the classroom. But they're usually isolated and overwhelmed and don't have time to share the good moments, let alone the many difficult ones. The workshops serve as strategy sessions for dealing with specific issues and are also like a support group. Lynda Johnson from Simmons College leads the workshops. She singles out Patrick Schiller a literacy specialist at an elementary school.
LYNDA JOHNSON AND PATRICK SCHILLER: How do you find today versus September? You feel you're getting better at it? I think so the first year is the hardest because you don't have all the tools you just don't. FADE DOWN
BRADY-MYEROV: Schiller says he knows every year there will be challenges but he'll be more prepared each year that he teaches. Johnson moves on to show a graph that highlights the phases of the first-year of teaching that everyone can relate to.
JOHNSON: hat do we know about teacher development. What phase are you in right now? Reflection. Yes, reflection and anticipation.
BRADY-MYEROV: As the school year comes to a close and these new educators reflect on their jobs, Johnson asks for a show of hands of the 30 teachers at the workshop: Who anticipates returning next year? All hands go up.
For WBUR I'm Monica Brady-Myerov.
This program aired on May 8, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.