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MUSD mentoring pays big dividends
Second year Neil Hafley School special education teacher Randall Blythe gets assistance from his mentor teacher Lorie Linn with the nuances of an Individualized Education Program he is formulating for a student.

It didn’t take long for Randall Blythe to realize that college courses can’t really prepare you 100 percent when it comes to being in charge of a classroom full of students.

 The second year Neil Hafely School special education teacher wasn’t left to flounder. He was assigned a mentor teacher as part of the Manteca Unified Teacher Induction Program. It is designed as a two-year job-embedded individualized program that provides extensive support and monitoring to new teachers in their first and second year of teaching while at the same time working toward their credential.

“If I didn’t have (the teacher induction program) I would be dealing with more stress,” Blythe said.

Stress comes with the territory as new teachers move from academia to teaching. It is even more so in special education classes where state law requires significantly more work from teachers such as formulating and executing Individualized Education Programs (IEP) for every student.

While the aim of the program is to produce quality teachers, Manteca Unified has gone a step farther. They have devoted more energy and effort to support beginning teachers than is typical for many districts. The reason is simple. Manteca Unified wanted to get an edge in the marketplace for securing and retaining teachers. Realizing salary and benefits only go so far, the district further refined its teacher induction program to provide more support and feedback. 

The effort has paid off.

Statewide, school districts only retain 79 percent of the new teachers they hire that need to successfully complete the job-embedded portion of the credentialing program. Manteca Unified has a 93 percent retention rate.

“We want to make sure our new teachers are fully supported,” noted District Superintendent Clark Burke who credits the program with giving Manteca Unified an edge in the competition to secure the most promising new teachers as well as retain them.

Blythe’s mentor — Lorie Linn — is in the classroom next door. In addition to the various aspects of the induction program that that includes two hours a week of one-on-one mentoring, non-evaluated observations of the credential candidate by the induction staff and pullout days for the mentor-candidate to observe other classes together as well as training days, Blythe can count on Linn for extra support when they share lunch in her classroom.

“There are millions of ways to run a classroom,” Linn said of the value of new as well as experienced teachers observing their colleagues in action.

Linn said she — and the other 124 mentor teachers — also benefit as they can get new ideas from beginning teachers freshly minted from college programs.

At the same time second year teachers such as Blythe are also paired with first year teachers to help them not be overwhelmed.

Eric Peters, one of two teachers that coordinate the districtwide teacher induction program (the other is Kendra Martinsen), notes having a teaching peer who has just gone through what a first year teacher is dealing with helps beginning instructors to be more comfortable.

Blythe agreed.

“It helped me be more confident,” he said.

The program has helped sharpen Blythe’s desire to teach, something that is extremely critical in special education programs for Manteca Unified given the fairly acute shortage of qualified special education teachers statewide.

It has allowed him to counter the toll stress can take with more “defining moments”.

“(When a student understands what I’m trying to teach) I get the feeling that I don’t want to be anywhere else,” Blythe said. “I’m right where I want to be.”

It’s the same feeling that keeps Linn going strong working 20 years in special education classes in Manteca Unified with the last 15 years as a teacher.

“That’s the ‘aha moment’,” Linn said. “It’s when the light bulb goes on.”

That rewarding feeling of a student getting a concept they have been struggling to learn is also provided to Linn through helping new teachers grow and flourish.

There are 130 beginning Manteca Unified teachers in the two-year state required and guided induction program. The district — working in a partnership with the University of Pacific — has further sharpened the individually designed program beyond basic state guidelines.

The participants are hired as substitute teachers in the program designed to support and develop well-qualified teachers. They are assigned to the same classroom and teacher for the entire school year. 

Prior to entering the induction effort after completing preliminary programs preparing candidates to obtain an initial teaching credential through successful completion of required coursework, fieldwork, and a performance demonstration of their knowledge, skills, and abilities, Manteca Unified offers pre-induction support as well to interns.

The goal is to work with strong candidates early even before they start the second tier of credentialing which is the two-year job-embedded induction program. By doing so, the district is creating an advantage in recruitment.

That is a big deal given in a typical year Manteca Unified needs to hire between 60 and 80 teachers to address retirement and departures among the more than 1,300 teachers that working with 24,000 plus students districtwide.

The program — along with early recruitment fairs conducted in February that comes with virtually immediate job offers to well qualified candidates and even working them into the substitute teacher list if they need a job — has allowed the district to avoid last minute scrambling that many districts do just before school starts to fill teaching vacancies.

“Having a good mentoring program is huge,” Linn noted.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email