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Mentor education – creating an infrastructure for reducing teacher attrition

Kari Smith

the tendencies related to teacher attrition in many countries are alarming and have huge economical as well as educational implications

The quality of teaching is of concern in most countries and there is little disagreement with the statement “Teachers Matter” (OECD, 2005). Teachers are viewed as the main agents for student learning. There is, however, lack of agreement of how to educate teachers who really matter, and moreover, how to keep them in the profession. The rate of attrition from teaching is alarming in a number of countries, especially among novice teachers during the five first years of their career. It is difficult to collect exact figures of attrition rates, but Craig (2015) estimates that nearly 50 % of novices leave teaching within the five first years in Texas, Moreover, Kyriacou & Kunc (2007) report that 40% of those who graduated from teacher education (60% of those who started teacher education) in England left the profession within the first five years. In Australia the estimated figures as presented by (Watt & Richardson (2007) are 30 % within 5 years. Roness (2011) found that in Norway 40 % of those who started the one year PGCE course in 2006 were not teaching in schools 18 months after graduation, and 20% of these had plans to leave within the first five years. Acknowledging the inaccuracy of the above figures, I claim that the tendencies related to teacher attrition in many countries are alarming and have huge economical as well as educational implications.

My fear is that policy makers and as a result, also teacher education institutions, are looking for short term solutions believing that repeated structural and organizational reforms in the education of teachers will solve the problem, disregarding the need for a long term perspective which requires creating an infrastructure supporting change. To illustrate the point made, an example from induction to teaching is used. The first years are experienced as challenging, and novices are in need of support in the form of mentoring. However, it is the quality of mentoring that matters, not just mentoring, and a three year time perspective supporting the novice in developing independence is suggested. In the first year mentoring is tight, to be gradually reduced in the second year (still not full teaching responsibilities for the novice), moving towards collegial mentoring in the successive years to ensure a smooth transition into the profession. The mentors are school-based teacher educators and in the process of creating an infrastructure for a good induction scheme, academic education of mentors are to be developed.

Mentoring is not the same as teaching, and the professional knowledge of mentoring differs from that of teaching children (Smith, 2015). To what extent are mentors educated in the countries with high induction rates? To my knowledge mentor education has not been widely addressed. Norway is, however, in the process of creating an infrastructure for teacher induction, and most teacher education institutions offer a 30 ECTS education for mentors. The impact of mentor education on reduced attrition rates can only be evaluated in the future (about 5 years), and not next year. Patience is therefore required by all stakeholders, including policy makers.


Craig, C. L. (2014). From stories of staying to stories of leaving: a beginning US teacher’s experience, Journal of Curriculum Studies, 46 (1), 81-115.

Kyriacou, C., & Kunc, R. (2007). Beginning teachers’ expectations of teaching. Teaching and Teacher Education, 23(8), 1246-1257.

OECD (2005). Teachers matter: attracting, developing and retaining effective teachers

RonessD. (2011). Still motivated? The motivation for teaching during the second year in the professionTeaching and Teacher Education, 27, 628-638.

Smith, K. (2015). Mentoring: A profession within a profession. In H. Tillema, G.J. van der

Westhuizen and K. Smith (Eds.) Mentoring for Learning- “Climbing the Mountain”. Rotterdam: Sense publishers: 283-299.

Watt, H. M. G., & Richardson, P. P. W. (2007). Motivational factors influencing teaching as a career choice: Development and validation of the FIT-choice scale. The Journal of Experimental Education, 75(3), 167-202.