Helping New Teachers Succeed

YU School Partnership Builds Infrastructure of Support and Mentoring for New Teachers in 15 Schools

With alarmingly low teacher retention rates in schools across North America, especially among new hires, more and more Jewish day schools and institutions are recognizing the need for increased support for new teachers. But the Yeshiva University Institute for University-School Partnership has found a new way to create strong, effective educators—and it starts from the top down.

From June 24 – 27, representatives from 15 Jewish day schools came together on YU’s Wilf Campus for a summer institute as part of the New Teacher Induction Program, an effort led by the YU School Partnership with a generous grant from the Jim Joseph Foundation.

Instead of focusing on new teachers individually, the program works with school leadership and faculty to build a comprehensive system of support and mentoring within each institution.

“Teaching is complex work and hard to do well, and it takes a long time to learn,” said Sarah Birkeland, senior research associate for the Teacher Learning Project at Brandeis University’s Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education. The Center has worked together with the YU School Partnership to coordinate the New Teacher Induction Program. “So much about it is learning on the job and the school where new teachers work is also the place they learn. Our focus is on turning schools into a place that supports new teachers by educating administrators, creating shared language and expectations about teaching, and coordinating mentor and teacher supervision.”

Michael Pershan, left, will teach at Yeshiva University High School for Boys in the fall.

“It’s critical to work with a whole school so that the head of school, lead teachers and new teachers understand what supports are needed for new teachers to succeed,” said Dr. Scott J. Goldberg, director of the YU School Partnership. “There must be a culture of learning where all stakeholders have a disposition towards growth. We are proud to partner with schools on the sacred task of educating the next generation.”

At the June institute, heads of school, mentors and new teachers convened separately to learn about school-wide induction and discuss common challenges and strategies to help maximize their contribution to the educational environment in their schools. Mentors also met with the group of new teachers to create goals and detailed schedules of their meetings throughout the upcoming year, as well as share an insider’s experience about each school and discuss problem-solving techniques in preparation for the fall semester. Suggestions included recruiting students to help decorate a dull classroom, outlining clear project goals and procedures in handouts, and diagramming possible classroom setups to create the best physical learning environment.

“Teaching is the profession of idealists,” said Sari Sheinfeld, a mentor at Yeshivat Noam. “We have high expectations of what we can learn and accomplish in the classroom, but often the practical difficulties can make our dreams go up in smoke. This program provides professional support by people who have experienced those same difficulties and moved on from them, and are still at the school because they want to be there.” She added: “It impacts your morale as part of a team and gives you that extra burst of energy, like ‘I can do this!’ ”

Shira Loewenstein, associate director of new teacher support at the YU School Partnership, believes the program benefits both new and veteran teachers alike.

Michael Pershan, a new teacher participating in the program at the Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy / Yeshiva University High School for Boys, agreed. “Talking with a mentor who observed my class helped clarify my own analysis of my efforts to improve my technique.”

The institute also gave new teachers the opportunity to meet colleagues within their school at the beginning of the summer so they’ll have contacts and faces to pair with email addresses in the fall. “I never met Yosef, who is sitting across the table from me, but I was amazed to learn he will be teaching the same subject to the same grade as I am next year,” said Simone Geller, who will teach at Yeshivat Noam. “It’s great to meet him now.”

The benefits are not for new teachers alone. “We believe what’s good for new teachers is good for all teachers,” said Shira Loewenstein, associate director of new teacher support at the YU School Partnership. “This program can affect school-wide change and help all teachers in the school reflect on and enhance their teaching and learning processes. It also taps into veteran educators, who know the culture of their schools intimately, as a resource, giving them room to expand their professional careers and take on more of a leadership role as they mentor other teachers.”

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