ISBA Executive Director Terry Spradlin

Terry Spradlin

The Indiana School Boards Association is calling for state legislators to consider allocating $3 million to revive an earlier Indiana program that paired first-time teachers with mentors.

“Approximately 3,000 first-year, full-time teachers are hired in Indiana each year,” said ISBA officials in a list of their 2023 legislative priorities. “Providing 3,000 mentor teachers with a $1,000 annual stipend would cost the state $3 million per year.”

These numbers are based off of the estimated need for traditional public schools in Indiana, said ISBA Executive Director Terry Spradlin.

The state’s previous initiative was known as Indiana’s Beginning Teacher Internship Program.

The state mandated that beginning in 1988-89, new teachers would complete a one-year internship that included observation by a veteran or “mentor” teacher and evaluation from a principal.

If the new teacher completed the internship successfully, the school year would count toward achieving permanent or semi permanent status, said Carblyn Roper, who was director of the program. Those who failed their evaluation were required to take another internship and would remain on the first-year pay scale.

The internship program was funded through the state budget for a number of years, said Spradlin.

The idea was that mentor teachers would help guide, coach and encourage new teachers, while also observing them in the classroom and demonstrating effective teaching practices. At that time, mentors received a $600 annual stipend for their work.

Spradlin believes the state eventually ended the program due to a recession. However, the ISBA is asking legislators to re-establish a similar initiative — albeit with some changes, such as making stipends $1,000 annually.

The association estimates that there are about 3,000 first-time teachers entering the profession each year, he said. If each one is paired with a mentor, this would make the total cost $3 million.

“One idea that we have is that it would be added to the Teacher Appreciation Grant program, the TAG program that is included in the state budget,” said Spradlin. “And that’s to provide a supplement to highly effective and effective teachers based on teacher evaluations. And so we envision that that program could be expanded to be ‘Teacher Appreciation and Mentorship Grant’ program, is what we are going to advocate for.”

He said that $37.5 million is dedicated to the TAG fund each year.

The ISBA is advocating that this be expanded to $40.5 million.

Mentors would be assigned locally, likely with superintendents empowering principals to identify mentors based on the criteria set by the state.

“We’ve not been so specific, to establish the criteria,” said Spradlin. “We’re looking to legislative leaders and perhaps the Department of Education to engage in conversation on this topic. But we do have that framework from the old program to review and revisit as a starting point for the conversation.”

Spradlin said that under the old statute, superintendents were instructed to, whenever possible, assign a mentor who had at least five years of teaching experience, taught a grade level similar to that of the beginning teacher, taught a similar subject, and taught in the same building.

Additionally, the mentor had to possess “outstanding teaching skills” and the ability to guide a new teacher in developing proper skills and practices.

Spradlin said that the ISBA would prefer to change the language to stipulate that the mentor must be rated at least “effective,” with “highly effective” being preferable.

They would also prefer the mentor to teach the same subject as their mentee, not just a similar subject.

When asked about the time commitment that mentorship would require, he said the previous statute stated that the superintendent would take action to provide mentors “adequate time” for observing the beginning teacher and, “whenever practical,” provide the mentor release time from their non-classroom duties.

“There would have to be accommodation, that the mentor would have the ability to have a period or two free to observe the protégé, the new teacher, and make observation or recommendations,” said Spradlin. “That wouldn’t be on a regular basis, but periodically that conversation would need to be made to enable that mentor teacher to work with the new teacher. So that can be locally defined; I don’t think we’d want legislation that’s so prescriptive, that’s overbearing and unrealistic.”

He said that the ISBA’s advocacy for a mentorship program comes from what they’ve been hearing from superintendents and school officials, who say that such an initiative would be helpful.

At the start of the school year, Indiana schools faced more than 3,000 staffing vacancies, said Spradlin.

As of Jan. 11, there were nearly 2,800 listings in the Indiana Department of Education‘s School Personnel Job Bank, including about 1,500 teaching positions. This includes posts from private and charter schools, as well as traditional public schools.

Though recruitment is part of the teacher shortage problem, retention is also an issue, with a high percentage of teachers leaving the profession in their first three years, said Spradlin. While some may decide that the job is not for them, others may feel unsupported or “ill-prepared” to work in education.

“Aligning them with a mentor teacher at the beginning of their experience as a professional will help them with onboarding, help them with that transition period, help them feel supported, that they have a person to rely on, to guide and coach them,” said Spradlin. “And so I think, ISBA, we believe and our members firmly believe that this would be very beneficial with addressing the teacher retention issue.”

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