Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Thrown in at the deep end: support for teachers’ first years

by Katarzyna Kubacka
Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills

The first day at work can be stressful for anyone. But what if that day involves teaching in front of a classroom filled with disruptive students? This may not be the reality for every new teacher, but as the new Teaching in Focus brief “Supporting new teachers” shows, it is the case for many.

TALIS 2013 finds that in many countries, new teachers (with less than five years’ teaching experience) are more likely to work in challenging schools than more experienced teachers. This means that they may be teaching in schools where more than 10% of students have special needs; or they may be located in a rural area, where schools often have fewer resources than urban schools.

Research shows that new teachers often lack the necessary skills to keep order in a classroom. As a result they spend less time teaching and more time managing students’ behaviour, which leads to their classrooms having a poorer climate than those of their more experienced colleagues. Teachers’ confidence in their abilities as teachers (i.e. their self-efficacy) also tends to increase with experience. Therefore, for many new teachers, their ability and confidence are outmatched by the difficult working conditions in which they are placed. 

To help remedy this mismatch, education systems can support new teachers through induction or mentoring programmes. Induction programmes are formal and informal activities that have been completed during a teacher’s first regular position, while mentoring programmes involve more experienced teachers mentoring their colleagues. Both induction and mentoring programmes can be an important link between teachers’ pre-service training and the day-to-day practice of classroom teaching. The added benefit of mentoring programmes is that they can strengthen collaboration between teachers and, thus, improve school climate.

Across most TALIS countries, the majority of teachers have access to formal or informal induction or mentoring programmes. However, TALIS 2013 shows large differences between countries in terms of programs’ availability: 44% of teachers work in schools where principals report access to formal induction programmes for all new teachers; 22% working in schools where such programmes are available to teachers new to teaching only; 76% of teachers work in schools with access to informal induction.

In most countries, fewer teachers report participation in induction and mentoring programmes than principals report the existence of such programmes. For example, in the Netherlands, 71% of all teachers work in schools with reported mentoring programmes, while only 17% report having a mentor. This suggests that many systems should carefully investigate the barriers to teachers’ and consider creating incentives for participation in such programmes. To illustrate, in many countries the lack of participation might be due to programs’ costs or teachers’ other work commitments.

Investing in teachers’ first years of work is not only about making the workplace easier for new teachers.  Such support also has long-term effects, as TALIS shows that those who participate in induction programmes are more likely to become mentors and participate in professional development later on in their careers. Hence, if teachers are helped to manage those first days, weeks, and years as a teacher, they will go on to help others, creating a virtuous cycle of teacher learning and peer collaboration.

Links:
Teaching in Focus No. 11: Supporting new teachers
TALIS 2013 Results
Photo source: Businesswoman is making speech at conference room/ @Shutterstock

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