Feature

New Teachers Get Much-Needed Support

Wendy Matthews, Anne Rodrigue and Johanna Brand

Beginning teachers need support if they are to be successful, happy and - perhaps most importantly - stay in the profession.

ETFO has been involved in designing a new, province-wide initiative to ensure they get that support.

A province-wide induction program is something ETFO has long been advocating for. This new system of supports replaces the Ontario Teacher Qualifying Test, the much-reviled teacher testing program brought in by the Mike Harris government.

Provincial government listens to teacher concerns

Education Minister Gerard Kennedy, aware of teacher opposition to meaningless testing, has been a strong supporter and key proponent of the new initiative. He assembled the Teacher Development Working Group in the spring to take a comprehensive look at teacher development. One of its first tasks was a made-in-Ontario provincial induction program.

The Minister s goal is to be able to prove that classroom teachers are qualified and competent and that the education system has the checks, balances and supports teachers need to help them increase their teaching skills and contribute to the success of students.

The working group - which includes members of all major education stakeholder groups - looked at international research, the results of focus group testing, and at induction programs that some Ontario boards already have in place.

Teacher support and local flexibility are the hallmarks of the framework that the working group developed. The induction program is meant to support teachers in their learning and development, not to punish them. There are province-wide principles and a requirement that boards report to the province, but boards retain the flexibility to design their own programs.

Basic survival skills

The framework focuses on orientation, professional development, mentoring, and teacher performance appraisal.

A successful orientation program will give new teachers knowledge of the system they work in: the policies, mission statement, beliefs, and structure of the board, as well as the role of the federation and the local. Teachers will understand what the system they work in looks like and how they can survive in it.

New teachers will be able to access professional development opportunities both during school time (that is they will be released from the classroom to pursue them) and on their own time. PD will be focused on the needs of new teachers, covering topics such as classroom management and teaching diverse students. But it will be designed to be flexible and to respond to the needs teachers themselves identify.

Mentoring, as envisioned by the working group, can take many different forms: a new teacher may be paired with an experienced teacher ‘buddy’. There may be group mentoring or same grade mentoring. Mentoring can take place in person or on-line.

The new teacher program also includes a streamlined teacher performance appraisal that is more focused and reduces the number of outcomes. Again, the goal is to support new teachers and enhance their development throughout the performance appraisal process.

New teacher programs are a victory for federations

Teacher federations have a long history of promoting induction and mentoring programs.

In the early 1990s, one of ETFO's predecessor organizations, the Federation of Women Teachers of Ontario, developed the Cooperative Induction Program. This partnership between the federation, a school board, and faculty of education resulted in a model mentoring program for new teachers in the Toronto area.

ETFO has long advocated for a province-wide, provincially-funded mentoring program for beginning teachers in their first two years. This position is outlined in Ensuring High Professional Standards in Ontario Education - A Response to Teacher Testing (1999).

In 2002, ETFO published Professional Beginnings: An Induction Resource Guide . This book has received wide acclaim as a practical and comprehensive guide for local federation leaders and district school boards to use as they work together to initiate new support programs for beginning teachers or enhance existing ones.

ETFO provided workshops for chairs of local new teacher committees to help them take the lead in implementing the ideas in this resource.