With funding from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, East Carolina University (ECU) has developed a program that trains new elementary school teachers to teach math more effectively. This cohort of new teachers hails from school districts across eastern North Carolina, many of which are experiencing some of the highest teacher turnover rates in the state. The program aims to ensure that the math performance of students who are taught by beginning teachers more closely aligns with the performance of students who are taught by veteran teachers.
New elementary teachers often find teaching math particularly challenging. ECU's induction program helps these teachers implement the Common Core Math Standards more successfully and provides continued support for them through teacher mentors. At the same time, participants gain the added benefit of a sense of "connectedness" within their peer group of new teachers, which research shows is a major factor in teacher retention.
"Beginning teachers have a lot to manage," says Catherine Stein Schwartz, Assistant Professor in ECU's Department of Mathematics, Science, and Instructional Technology Education. "Giving them the time and space to focus on mathematics teaching and learning beyond the day-to-day challenges of the classroom is important in helping them focus on their practice and their students' understanding."
The math-focused training program supports new teachers over the course of two years. At the start of each year, the group participates in an intensive, three-day overnight training where teachers develop a year-long vision for their math instruction, while also considering the context-specific environment of their classrooms and schools.
After the initial intensive training, beginning teachers work with a master teacher mentor specifically selected for his or her expertise in mathematics instruction. Mentors work with these teachers virtually, via phone and Skype, over the course of two years, providing guidance and advice on general classroom instruction and management as well as content-specific math support. Each year, both the three-day training and the mentor coaching are individually tailored to meet the needs of each beginning teacher.
"While it is still early in the process, the program is already seeing impacts in participant teachers' practice and confidence in teaching mathematics," says Schwartz. "The community and networking that has developed as a result of the professional development and mentoring is encouraging."
The project’s first year of data is expected to be available during the 2014-2015 school year.