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Learning ABCs of Teaching : Training: Program gives new instructors the opportunity to gain from the experiences of their colleagues.


Sue Cirillo was putting up decorations in her first-grade classroom the day before school started, preparing for her first day as a teacher.

Unexpectedly, her principal came in and told her that there would be some changes. Her new students would now be first- and second-graders, and some would speak only a little English. Besides that, she would be teaching on a different track, meaning that her vacation time would be changed.

Cirillo turned to the one other person in the room: Marion Schumacher, a 71-year-old retired teacher from Canoga Park who was helping her as part of a state pilot program to get new teachers off to a good start. They began moving everything to another classroom, where Cirillo hung the decorations while Schumacher went to the library to pick out books for the class. Before she left, Schumacher suggested some activities for the first day of school.

"As a new teacher, I was near tears. She said she would get me through it," said Cirillo, 28, who is now in her second year of teaching. "It was overwhelming. I don't know if I would have stuck it out if it weren't for her help. I've had friends who were not part of this program and they weren't able to make it."

Cirillo is one of more than 3,800 new teachers who have received help from the California New Teacher Project since it started statewide in 1988. The project includes 37 different programs involving school districts, county offices, universities and teachers organizations. The program was established to help people make the transition into teaching, not to make up for any shortcomings they may have.

Cal State Northridge's program, which began two years ago, has helped 108 beginning teachers and involves officials of the Los Angeles Unified School District and United Teachers-Los Angeles. Students who receive their teaching credential through CSUN and who are hired by L. A. Unified to teach kindergarten through sixth grade in the San Fernando Valley are invited to apply to participate. About 35 per semester will be placed. Those who cannot be placed because of space considerations are sometimes referred to other, less formal sources of help.

CSUN program participants are linked with recently retired teachers who provide pointers on many aspects of the profession, from getting the children's attention to dealing with difficult parents. The teachers are also paired with a colleague on campus--a "buddy teacher"--who can help with school-related problems, and they are visited by the university professor under whom they did their student teaching.

Occasionally, the new teachers are allowed to take a day off to attend workshops or observe respected teachers in the classroom. A substitute, paid for by the New Teacher Project, covers for the novice, who receives normal pay.

This school year, the CSUN program was opened to bilingual teachers who have emergency credentials and are taking education classes at CSUN.

Even though student teaching provides practice, no new teacher can be fully prepared for the reality of facing a classroom solo, education officials say.

"From the very first day, they are given the same kind of an assignment as a veteran teacher of, say, 30 years," said Susan A. Wasserman, director of CSUN's new teacher program. "You really can't tell the difference in terms of the time and effort they have to put in."

One goal of the program is to keep new teachers in the classroom.

The U. S. Department of Education's National Center for Educational Statistics studied a group of teachers from 1977 to 1986 and found that 37% of them left the profession in the first five years. A local comparison is unavailable since CSUN does not track teachers who were trained at the university.

Although the California New Teacher Project has existed for only three years, education officials believe that it is helping teacher retention. They point to the fact that every new teacher who has gone through the program at CSUN is still teaching, and that only 2% of those who have participated statewide have left the profession.

Based on regular studies by Southwest Regional Laboratory, an independent evaluator that the state hired, state officials say participating teachers had better planning practices, gave more learning opportunities to their students and generally provided a higher quality of teaching.

The state Commission on Teacher Credentialing and the California Department of Education will present a report in March to the Legislature and Gov. Pete Wilson detailing the methods and results of the different projects.

"We've proven that support makes a difference," said Sue Garmston, consultant for the state Department of Education's instructional services and teaching support division. "New teachers are better equipped and more satisfied with being a teacher."

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