Commentary: Help Texas schools flourish by funding teacher mentorships

As the Texas lawmakers consider legislation aimed at improving the quality of teacher preparation in our state, one of the most important things they can do is support a bill filed by state Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) that would help more school districts create mentoring programs for new teachers.

House Bill 816 would help establish more high-quality, research-based mentoring and induction programs in Texas benefiting teachers and students. The bill would provide funds to create mentoring programs in which districts provide training and ongoing support for mentors, afford time for meetings and select mentors with superior ratings who have taught for at least three years.

I am a proud product of Texas public schools. My 25-year teaching experience in this state has made clear that the stakes couldn’t be higher for our students.

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My first year of teaching would not have been successful without my mentor, Lucille, who was naturally gifted at coaching. Lucille knew when to listen and when to push my thinking about my teaching practice. She told me that “bad teachers and mediocre teachers don’t worry if they are doing a good enough job or wonder how to be a better teacher. As long as you are reflecting, you are growing.”

While my own mentoring experience was a success, not every teacher is as lucky. In fact, when I became a mentor my second year of teaching — and for many years after that — I realized that there were skills that I lacked. Though being an effective teacher is a solid foundation for being a mentor, it does not provide all the skills an adviser needs to help a novice teacher grow as an educator.

In my seventh year of teaching, I was invited to join a then-new program called the Texas Beginning Educator Support System (TxBESS). The invitation came with training, time away from teaching responsibilities and a stipend. The program transformed the way I mentored. I learned new techniques in coaching beginning teachers. We had time to observe each other and reflect together on our lessons. I saw an immediate difference in the success of the teachers I mentored. Along the way, my own teaching improved as well.

When the TxBESS program lost funding in 2002, it was a great loss to schools and to me personally. As I dug deeper, I found that comprehensive mentoring and induction programs help improve student achievement, increase teacher retention, cut the high cost of teacher turnover and create a safety net for students by addressing inequities in teacher distribution. Mentoring also addresses the need to create career pathways for effective teachers who want to lead without leaving the classroom.

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I’m an aunt to three elementary-aged Texas students and have a classroom of fourth-graders. When I think about my hopes for them and the teachers who will teach them in future years, I want teachers who are both highly effective and well-supported. The support of the right mentor is especially important for teachers who are new to profession.

While some Texas teachers have access to high-quality mentoring, there is no state mandate for districts to provide research-based mentoring programs like TxBESS. Despite a multiyear external evaluation of TxBESS by the Charles A. Dana Center that showed the success of high-quality mentoring for Texas teachers, the state has not chosen to invest in mentoring new teachers.

HB 816 has passed the House Public Education Committee unanimously; the Calendars Committee has placed it on the General State Calendar. The legislative budget board’s fiscal note on the bill estimates a cost of $1.5 million a year. The cost is reasonable and the benefits are far-reaching. With this legislation in place, more teachers can have mentors like Lucille – and go on to make a difference in students’ lives for many years to come.

Hoover is a fourth-grade teacher at Leander ISD’s Reed Elementary School and a member of the Teach Plus Texas Teacher Advisory Board.

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