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Statewide initiative aims for support for all new Illinois teachers

Craig Chamberlain, Education Editor


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — New teachers in Illinois will get help where they need it, and access to mentoring from veteran and National Board Certified teachers. Administrators will get advice on supporting new teachers during their first crucial years in the classroom.

That’s the goal of the Illinois New Teacher Collaborative (INTC), a statewide initiative involving almost every group with an interest in Illinois education, including business, higher education, school administrators, teachers’ unions and the state board of education.

The members of the collaborative hope to help all new Illinois teachers become better teachers, and do so sooner, and also reduce the high rate at which they leave the profession – as many as half within the first five years.

“We are primarily making sure the issue of support programs for new teachers gets the attention it deserves,” says Renee Clift, a professor of education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and one of the primary organizers of the collaborative.

With a $250,000 grant from the State Farm Companies Foundation, and additional funding from the university, Clift and others have spent the last year putting together a statewide collaborative that has become the INTC. They are coordinating their work with two related initiatives, one sponsored by the Chicago-based Joyce Foundation and the other sponsored by the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools.

The Partnership Board that directs the INTC includes representatives from the Chicago Civic Committee, Illinois Association of School Administrators, Illinois Business Roundtable, Illinois Center for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, Illinois Education Association, Illinois Federation of Teachers, Illinois Principals Association, Illinois State Board of Education and its regional offices, public and private universities, two-year public colleges, and new teachers themselves.

Clift noted that programs for new teachers – usually called induction and mentoring programs – have been discussed extensively ever since the Illinois General Assembly put into effect a tiered system of certification for teachers several years ago. Many schools and districts have their own programs, she said, but nothing has been put in place statewide to coordinate the effort or even to keep track of what programs exist and their impact.

“We lose a lot of teachers in those first couple years,” said John Dively, executive director of the Illinois Principals Association and part of the INTC’s Partnership Board, who remembers his own difficult first year of teaching. “There is a certain feeling of isolation, not enough support, and in too many cases, new teachers are given some of the toughest assignments,” he said.

Research shows that it takes at least five years for most teachers to master all aspects of their jobs and become their most effective as instructors, according to Sue Walter, a union professional development director for the Illinois Federation of Teachers and another member of the INTC board.

“Unfortunately, in this time of very heightened accountability, with No Child Left Behind, high-stakes testing, etc., they don’t have five years. So we’re trying to help speed up the development process, and that’s what effective induction and mentoring programs do.”

Dan Lynch, senior manager for policy for the Chicago Civic Committee and another member of the INTC board, said his organization sees programs for new teachers as one of the most effective ways to improve education overall, especially with limited funds.

“The research will tell you that what matters most is the quality of the teachers. … When you’re looking at education reform, one of the highest-leverage things you can do is improve the quality of teachers … and introducing a mentoring and induction program is one of the highest-leverage things you can do to retain teachers and also improve quality.”

A Web site for INTC is in place, with extensive links to information, resources and programs. For new teachers, defined as those in their first four years of teaching, there is a searchable database dealing with topics such as classroom management, teaching standards, lesson plans and communicating with parents.

Other sections of the Web site provide helpful links for administrators, mentors, and support organizations and providers. Within a year or less, the site should have a complete directory of all programs for new teachers in Illinois, Clift said. Another section will provide links to selected programs at national and regional levels.

INTC itself does not have the resources to provide direct services to districts or schools wanting to set up their own programs, but it can put people in touch with the agencies or organizations that can, Clift said.

Also in the works for 2005-06 is a pilot “e-mentoring” program that would give new teachers the means to discuss their challenges and concerns online with National Board Certified teachers (certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards).

And plans are under way for a conference in Springfield, Feb. 28 through March 1, titled “Attracting and Retaining High-Quality Teachers: Local and Statewide Solutions.”

For her role in the development of the INTC, Clift brings experience from coordinating the development of the Novice Teacher Support Project in East Central Illinois. The program grew out of a partnership between the university and the state’s Champaign-Ford and Vermilion regional offices of education.

Since 1997, the Novice Teacher Support Project has served hundreds of early-career teachers in five counties (Champaign, Ford, Macon, Piatt and Vermilion). In 2000, it began piloting an e-mentoring program that connected novice teachers with veteran teachers who were Illinois alumni.

The e-mentoring program is now being replicated at Governors State University, Loyola University of Chicago, Northeastern Illinois University and the Illinois Area IV Technology Hub for the Regional Offices of Education, in Rantoul.

Even the most promising new teachers from the best education schools can need help in those first years of teaching, Clift said. When teachers get discouraged and leave the profession, blame can get directed at any of the parties involved, she said.

“We (the INTC) hope to be a growing voice that continues to say that if you want to grow really good teachers, you don’t point fingers, but you think about how you can work collectively, how you can work together,” Clift said.