By Samina Hadi-Tabassum
Earlier this summer my graduate students and I mentored and coached first-year teachers in India. All of my students finished their first year of teaching through an urban alternative certification program at my university and traveled with me to India as a part of their culminating coursework. Since English is the lingua franca in India, it is easy for Americans to navigate the terrain of Indian public schools where English is now the common medium of instruction. Each of my graduate students spent three weeks in the classrooms from morning to afternoon providing the type of essential feedback they never received in the United States. In their first year of teaching in Chicago, they had many visitors in their classrooms who dropped in for a short stretch of time: principals and department chairs, district officials, literacy coaches, the university supervisor, the alternative certification program evaluator, and sometimes the assigned school mentor. Oftentimes, the visitors never spoke to each other about what was observed in the graduate student’s classroom — there were no clinical rounds of observation and analysis amongst those invested in her or his success as a first-year teacher. Information about teaching performance was assembled in discrete pieces of data and there was never a big picture approach toward the first-year student’s development over time and from multiple lenses.
In India, my graduate students spent the first three weeks of school in its entirety with a brand new teacher: They were able to demonstrate classroom management techniques right away; they were able to develop behavior tracking systems; they helped the first year Indian teachers determine rules and consequences immediately; they established classroom rituals and routines; they established rapport with the students and their families; and they were able to complete diagnostic and placement assessments before the instruction cycle began.
The first-year Indian teachers were so grateful for the one-on-one attention they received from my graduate students: “Thank you so much for coming to our school. It was a great pleasure to watch you teach. In just 3 weeks you managed to transform the class with your rules, behavior tracker, voice levels etc. I’ve learned a lot about classroom structures and culture and hope to get better with time. Thanks again for all the resources and ideas. I’ve become a much more confident teacher and all credit goes to you guys!”(Shreya).
At the end of the course, we had a deep discussion about why such mentoring and coaching programs do not exist in the United States. In large urban school districts with a high teacher turnover, it would be very beneficial to have a mentor and coach in a first-year teacher’s classroom on a daily basis from morning to afternoon and over several weeks. Imagine the loneliness and isolation you felt as a first-year teacher. By having a full-time mentor and coach for each daunting day, you would be able to connect theory and practice together much faster by learning to manage an unruly classroom with an expert constantly at your side until you finally get over that hump period when you know you can finish the school year with fidelity.
Urban principals want to provide support for their first-year teachers but are often unaware how to go about it so that those first-year teachers stay in the classroom until the end of the year. Perhaps there is a need for a non-profit organization to work closely with urban schools and provide full-time mentoring and coaching for first-year teachers, as well as those who need more substantive and immediate feedback, since school districts are not fulfilling that need.