Building a Professional Support Program for the Beginning Teacher
This qualitative study described the development and implementation of a professional support program for beginning teachers in a school division for the 1997-98 school year. The community members including mentor teachers, principals, and central office staff, supported specific needs in a structured program to assist beginning teachers to learn how to teach. The study involved 25 beginning teachers with no years of experience who were paired with mentor teachers from their elementary schools. The study focused on the experiences and perceptions of the beginning teachers and mentors in the program building process. Phase one description includes components of program planning and development including design, collaboration, and resources. Identified beginning teacher needs, professional support community needed to provide support for the beginning teachers, program contents, and a timeline of activities, complete the description. The description of phase two of program delivery includes specific activities for beginning teacher meetings, recommendations for school-based activities between beginning teachers and mentor teachers, mentor teacher meetings, and connections to school principals.
Methodology included a combination of questionnaires, participant observation and field notes from program planning meetings, beginning teachers meetings, and mentor teacher meetings, research journal, and collection of documents. Text was created from these methods looking at larger themes and issues that emerged to allow for an understanding of beginning teachers and what is involved in their necessary support.
This study suggests that there are several key program essentials for providing support for the beginning teachers. Program essentials include: (1) building program awareness;(2) establishing goals; (3) determining beginning teachers' needs; (4) having a broad-based program participation; (5) preparing participants for their support roles; (6) identifying benefits to program participants; and (7) providing a program structure. A program structure includes: (1) a kick-off of the program and orientation for beginning teachers; (2) a recommended school-based activity schedule of times and topics for a collaborative relationship between beginning teachers and mentor teachers; (3) beginning teacher meetings held three times during the year for beginning teachers to meet together; (4) and mentor teacher meetings for mentor teachers to meet together. Time is an important issue for beginning teacher support with time needed to plan and develop the program and to build trust among program participants. While mentor teachers find the process of supporting beginners satisfying, they also appreciate receiving tangible benefits such as stipends, release time to work with beginning teachers, and program training. These rewards provide verification of the school division's valuing of the enterprise. An ongoing program evaluation system contributed to program planning decision making and assessment of program effectiveness.
With a support program designed to meet individualized needs, beginning teachers feel supported and appreciated in their first year of teaching. In addition, a school division gains an understanding of what is needed to build support and community building for the beginning teachers and how to assist the mentor teachers as they support the beginning teachers.