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Teacher Mentorship Collaborative Offers Support, Resources to New Teachers

This article was originally published by the University of Houston — Clear Lake Newsroom

Teaching is a tough job. So tough that the Texas Associate of School Boards reports that about half public school teachers nationally have seriously considered leaving the profession within their first five years of teaching. Although many teachers cite low pay and underfunding as a main source of frustration, TASB says that about 62% consider a different profession because as teachers, they feel undervalued and unsupported.

University of Houston-Clear Lake professors in the College of Education have a plan to address the shortage of teachers in local school districts. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, they came up with the idea to create a mentoring collaborative with the aim of setting up a progressive, responsive approach to mentoring new teachers.

“We have ideals and values that we want to embrace through this collaborative, such as communication and continuity,” said Associate Professor of Special Education Elizabeth Beavers. “We were experimenting with what we wanted mentoring to look like. From the beginning, we wanted to do something so students could stay connected with faculty after leaving.”

 She said it was their goal to walk alongside them, support them, and to be a resource to them in their first years in their own classrooms. “We want to do this in partnership with the mentorship they could be receiving from the teachers they’re assigned to in their districts,” she explained.

Beavers said that the first year of teaching can be an emotional journey for new teachers. “They need to have someone they know with whom they can be vulnerable and who will help them build confidence in their first year,” she said.

Associate Professor of Literacy, Language Arts and Literature Studies Roberta Raymond said she hoped connecting with newly-graduated students, ensuring they had their professors’ cell phones if they wanted to text, and letting them know she was available would make them feel there was support close by.

“In collaboration with a committee, we create a webpage with some additional resources and email addresses for our new teachers to reach out to if needed,” she said. “When they graduated, we sent students emails to welcome them to the profession and let them know about this mentoring collaborative.”

Beavers said that building strategic partnerships within districts to support UHCL’s new teachers as well as new teachers from other universities is an important part of the plan.

“We have established agreements with area school districts and facilitated professional development trainings with district mentors on how to coach mentees and one-on-one mentorship,” she continued. “It’s still an evolution. Mentors are choosing to work with new teachers out of their desire to support aspiring, but it’s all organic.”

Because UHCL teachers are employed in so many area school districts, finding ways to remain connected is a challenge, so Associate Professor of Curriculum and Instruction Kent Divoll said he began working on creating partnerships with those districts that did not offer many professional development options to teachers.

“So far, we have offered professional development to La Porte Independent School District, Goose Creek I.S.D., Texas City I.S.D., and Santa Fe I.S.D.,” Divoll said. “We have done presentations on classroom management, and training mentors to be the best possible coaches to first-year teachers.

“Our larger plan is to remain as connected as possible to the school districts, not just to help our own teachers be successful in the classroom, but all teachers in the area,” he continued. “We want them to know we are here to support them if they want to advance their education. We want to give everyone the tools they need to remain in the profession.”

Beavers added that all UHCL students in the College of Education must complete various teaching field experiences, and those with a special education concentration can do theirs in Clear Creek I.S.D.’s Extended School Year program, designed to support students with significant learning and behavioral disabilities during the summer, when many often regress and lose the skills they acquired over the school year.

“Our current students are engaged in partnership with Clear Creek I.S.D. and there are some UHCL alumni who are now teachers, and they’re mentoring current UHCL students who are involved in the ESY program,” Beavers said.

She said the teachers’ willingness to offer mentorship says so much about UHCL’s partnerships.

“Teachers are so willing to help, no matter where they graduated from, and they give of themselves and support our aspiring teachers,” she explained. “Most of what our graduates talk about is their experience with their mentor teachers. Clear Creek I.S.D. loves our students there, and the reciprocal part is that there’s another set of hands and another perspective to help students who are becoming teachers.”

Andrea Simmons is currently working toward her Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies with Core Subjects EC-6 and Special Education EC-12. In June, she completed a three-week practicum in Clear Creek I.S.D.’s Extended Year Program, embedded in a structured learning lab working with second-grade students on the autism spectrum.

“My mentor teacher is a UHCL alumna,” Simmons said. “And Dr. Beavers has always stayed connected with me as well. There have been many times where I wondered if I was cut out for this, but Dr. Beavers and my mentor teacher have always built my confidence and told me to believe in myself.”

She added that she’s had consistent support, and Dr. Beavers checked in with everyone regularly, floating in and out of the classrooms, observing her and all the other UHCL teacher interns.

“This mentoring has had such an impact on me,” Simmons said. “It has made me feel that there is always someone who’s interested in me and making sure I am getting the most out of this educational experience. If more teachers had this kind of mentorship, I think they would stay in education longer.”

Simmons said that when she graduates, she will apply to Alvin I.S.D., where she lives and where her own children went to school. “I know my professors will stay in touch with me even when I have graduated,” she said.

For more information about UHCL’s College of Education Mentoring Collaborative, visit www.uhcl.edu/education/centers-initiatives/mentoring-collaborative/.

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