The state Department of Education (DOE) has wrestled with the challenge of new teacher turnover for years.
I’ve been a teacher for over 20 years now, and I remember when I first started.
I arrived at the front office to introduce myself, eager for a tour of the school or an orientation. Instead, I was handed a cardboard soda box with a roll of tape, the school handbook, and a set of keys.
I unlocked the door to my classroom full of excitement only to find the room completely bare, no furniture and no supplies.
I spent the rest of that first day cleaning my room, hunting down furniture and classroom supplies.
"Mentoring is more than a program - it's a mindset, an approach to helping everyone grow, children and adults, alike."
- Keri Shimomoto
I was overwhelmed, thinking about the students who would arrive in just a few days.
That was the beginning of a challenging first year of teaching for me where I felt isolated, and had little opportunity to connect with experienced professionals. Many times that year, I wondered if I’d made the right career choice.
My experience was not unique. Then and now, new teachers are often placed in “hard to staff" schools, serving communities with high rates of poverty and tough working conditions.
About a decade ago, nearly half of all new teachers were leaving the profession within their first three years.
Fortunately, the department has turned a new leaf in facing this challenge and it starts with some of our best teachers mentoring their novice colleagues.
DOE first took steps in 2005 requiring induction and mentoring for all new teachers. This led to a patchwork of mentoring programs, some more effective then others.
Then, in 2010, with federal and private funding and support from the New Teacher Center, a national leader in instructional coaching, DOE rolled out a more comprehensive induction and mentoring program for all new teachers statewide.
Today, new teachers in Hawaii have access to orientations, professional development and weekly meetings with a trained instructional mentor.
Some complex areas have full-time mentors while others rely on school-level mentors —teachers who take some of their time to mentor a new teacher in their school.
Implementation is not perfect and there is room for improvement. Still, new teacher turnover has dropped from the peak of 50 percent in 2004 to 37 percent in 2012, the most recent year for which three-year employment figures are available.
The vast majority of new teachers and their principals give the program positive reviews.
On the most recent statewide survey, 84 percent of new teachers say that “mentoring helped me be a more effective teacher" and 90 percent of principals say “mentoring impacts student learning.”
With high-quality training and continuous support, excellent teachers make effective mentors.
While modeling professionalism, mentors provide emotional support and help new teachers navigate the school and community culture.
As instructional mentors, they work collaboratively with beginning teachers to set professional goals, ask questions that prompt reflection, problem-solve, observe in the classroom, and help analyze student work to support the new teacher in planning differentiated lessons that meet the needs of all students.
The reward for me is in seeing the growth both in new teachers and in the mentors themselves, who develop new skills as coach, counselor and facilitator.
Mentoring is more than a program —it’s a mindset, an approach to helping everyone grow, children and adults, alike.
Building upon the program now in place, I hope that mentoring remains a DOE priority and can shape the philosophy of the entire department.
Every one of us can benefit from mentors or coaches who urge us to continually reflect and grow as professionals and as people.