Steven Weinberg, a retired Oakland teacher and occasional blog contributor, writes about a cut to a program that supports hundreds of new teachers each year.
Since my retirement I have stayed involved with the district by providing coaching and mentoring to new teachers as part of the district’s Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment (BTSA) program. Last week those of us who provide that help were told that the program will suffer a huge budget reduction for the coming year, with only about 70 new teachers receiving mentoring support instead of the 320 receiving that help today. Since each coach receives a $1,300 stipend for each teacher supported, this reduction will save the district about $400,000 next year.
The coaches in the BTSA program meet once a week with each new teacher. The coach observes the new teacher in the classroom several times during the year. Together the coach and new teacher discuss lesson planning, classroom control, the needs of English language learners and special needs students and methods to assess student progress and evaluate the effectiveness of instruction. Together they review and evaluate student work. The new teacher reflects upon how various approaches are working and learns to continually revise his or her practice to become more effective.
As part of the process, the new teacher also completes and turns in to the New Teacher Talent Development Office a series of forms and reflections demonstrating his or her growth over the two years that he or she is involved with the BTSA program. These forms and reflections form the basis for the Talent Development Office certifying that they have completed “induction,” a state requirement for converting a preliminary credential (which lasts only 5 years) to a clear credential.
New Oakland teachers would still have to complete all the forms and reflections, but most of them would not receive the coaching that is now provided. Coaches were told that the Talent Development Office was hoping that subject area specialists and consultants working from the central office, along with school administrators, would assist the teachers without coaches. It appears, however, that those individuals haven’t actually been consulted about this increase in their responsibilities and workloads.
No one presenting this new plan could say who decided that the budget should be cut in this way, or why budget cuts were required in a year when funding for the district should be increasing.
These cuts seem extremely misguided. Oakland’s current mentoring program is highly regarded, particularly the way it uses coaches. It seems wrong to cut back a program where OUSD is actually doing a better job than most districts in the state. It is also important to note that many of the teachers who will no longer have mentors are special education teachers. A huge percentage of these teachers in Oakland do not have clear credentials. It would be unconscionable to leave these teachers, who work with our most vulnerable students, without support.
I asked the new teacher I am working with this year how the changes would affect her when she does her second year of induction next year. She said that completing the forms and submitting them to the office would be pretty much a waste of time because she would just be writing down what she already knows, as opposed to this year when our conferences led her to rethink some of her assumptions and consider things is a new way and to grow as a teacher. She also said that she particularly appreciated having me observe her, as I was the only person to observe her for an entire lesson in the two years she has been teaching.
Forcing principals to take additional responsibilities for new teacher induction also seems unwise. Research stresses the importance of teachers having mentors who are not involved in their evaluation. This allows for the kind of trust and openness that is crucial for growth. Principals cannot fulfill the role of an evaluator and a coach successfully. In addition, there is an equity issue. New teachers are over- represented at flatland schools where principals already have their hands full with challenges. Asking those principals to take on a larger workload is ridiculous.
Hopefully, as these cuts become more widely known, saner heads will prevail, and the funds will be restored.