Focus: Staff Development

Quality Induction for Teachers in Rural Schools

by Karen P. Ellis

Q: “What went well in your classroom this week?”

A: “NOTHING! … Let’s see, the fact that I arrived safely each morning after having to drag myself to school.”

Q: “What did not go well?”

A: “EVERYTHING! I don’t feel like I am making any type of progress with these children.”

This actual exchange is an excerpt from a daily journal entry written by a newly hired teacher during the first week of school a few Septembers ago. It’s not difficult to sense her level of frustration.

I often observe this sense of frustration in my work with newly hired, inexperienced classroom teachers. They are asking themselves, “What’s wrong with me? I don’t feel very positive about my career choice. Can I really make a difference?”

Program Components
Rural school districts face unique challenges attracting and retaining high-quality teachers. Tangipahoa Parish in southeastern Louisiana is primarily a rural school district serving mostly low-income students. We recognized the need to more effectively support and assist our intern teachers by developing the Tangipahoa FIRST teacher-induction program. FIRST represents a Framework for Inducting, Retaining and Supporting Teachers.

Initial teacher induction consists of five highly structured days that focus on classroom management, discipline, effective lesson design and delivery, and district policies and procedures. The training room is set up like a classroom environment, in which new teachers take on the roles of students and the presenters become their teachers. Throughout the week, the Tangipahoa FIRST support teacher staff model effective teaching strategies and techniques.

Training takes place a few weeks before school begins. A second induction training is held each January for teachers hired in late fall or at the start of the second semester.

At this point, we don’t simply wish our teachers well and send them off to their classrooms with no further support. Follow-up training designed to meet the specific needs of intern teachers identified through a needs assessment is provided over a three-year period.

Another key component of the induction program involves mentoring, which provides a strong sense of support, a structure for modeling effective teaching and opportunities for inductees to visit demonstration classrooms. As part of the Louisiana Assistance and Assessment Program, a teacher mentor is assigned to work with each new teacher as part of the state certification process. The mentor is a full-time classroom teacher who has completed a comprehensive training program and serves as on-site support to the new teacher. The mentor’s primary goal is to help guide the new teacher through the state certification process.

Additionally, Tangipahoa FIRST support teachers are assigned to work with intern teachers for a three-year period and/or all teachers newly assigned to special education. The FIRST staff are released full time from regular teaching duties and placed strategically across multiple school sites, which allows for increased interaction time with intern teachers. The coaching process is emphasized and the support teachers assist intern teachers with planning, teaching, reflecting and applying what is being learned.

Initial and ongoing professional development training is provided to the support teacher team. Monthly meetings are held to plan and develop ongoing staff activities.

Funding Sources
After designing a program based upon best practices, the next challenge was determining how to fund such an initiative. The average annual cost of implementing a quality teacher-induction program can be as high as $6,000 to $7,000 per teacher, according to a 2007 report by the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future titled “The Cost of Teacher Turnover in Five School Districts: A Pilot Study.” Our first step was to consider available funding avenues.

Primary program expenses cover professional development training and the support/mentor teacher team, including all salaries and benefits. Our district uses a combination of funding sources — monies from federal programs (Title I, Title II, Title V and Title VI), along with budgeted dollars from the special education department and the district’s general fund. We also secured a state mini-grant to assist in funding efforts.

To reduce costs, the trainings are facilitated by the district’s support teacher team. This practice enables us to provide professional development training that’s job-embedded and allows for meaningful follow-up. The support teachers can directly assist teachers in the effective implementation of strategies in their classrooms.

As a result of these efforts, the average annual cost of the Tangipahoa FIRST program is approximately $3,100 per participant, markedly less than the national average.

Successful Outcomes
Since the induction program was implemented in fall 2001, our district’s teacher-retention rate has improved annually, growing from 70 percent at the outset to the current rate of 91 percent.

Our teachers are staying with us because of the training and support our teacher newcomers receive to become effective educators. The Tangipahoa FIRST induction program is representative of the district’s “TEAM” effort — Together Everyone Achieves More.

Karen Ellis is coordinator of the Tangipahoa FIRST Induction Program for the Tangipahoa Parish School System in Amite, La. E-mail: