in Montana: Teachers Get Early Career Help
The first few months in most teachers' careers
are often a whirlwind of excitement and something approaching shell shock.
In Montana, trained mentors are helping beginning math and science teachers
get off to the strongest start possible, thanks to funding from NSF. The
Montana project is one of 13 NSF Collaboratives for Excellence in Teacher
The Montana Systemic Teacher Excellence Preparation, or STEP, program
is a statewide alliance of public school districts, state universities
and colleges, tribal community colleges, and state teacher organizations.
The project is dedicated to improving teacher training throughout the
state and to serving as a model for other rural areas with large minority
STEP's early career (EC) mentoring project is the second phase of a program
that began in 1993 with the comprehensive reform of math and science education
curricula in Montana state and tribal colleges. As students, prospective
teachers work with lead teachers who are also part of the STEP program.
Once hired, STEP graduates are matched with mentors identified through
a statewide application process. "Rather than just sending our students
off into the world, we continue to support them as they try to put new
ideas into practice," says Elisabeth Charron, associate professor of science
education at Montana State University in Bozeman and director of STEP.
A primary aim of the program is to increase the number of
Native American students who choose science education careers
early on at tribal community colleges and then mentor them
into teaching careers both on and off reservations. By June
of this year, 21 Native American STEP participants will have
graduated and entered math or science teaching, more than quadrupling
the number of Native American math and science teachers in
Montana two years ago. In addition, 68 more Native American
students are in the teacher pipeline, currently completing
the first two years of math or science teacher preparation.
This year the program has 50 mentors and 80 EC teachers, many
working in remote school districts where they are the only
math or science teacher. Because of the vast distances involved,
some of this year's group of EC teachers did not meet their
mentors in person until an October gathering of state teachers.
There, the EC teachers were given "survival kits" containing
books, software, laboratory supplies and other teaching equipment.
Most mentoring is done via e-mail on a state education Internet
Telementoring has hidden benefits, says Charron. Many new
teachers have reported that they are more comfortable seeking
advice outside their districts. They get help in solving problems
but still maintain their autonomy.
NSF's Division of Undergraduate Education funds each of the
CETP projects for five years. After 1998, STEP will be run
by the Montana teacher organizations.