Supporting new teachers so they thrive

NTI sounds like a dramatic TV crime show, but for 105 first- and second-year teachers in ten WELS districts, the New Teacher Induction program is a life saver.

“New teachers, even the brightest, meet unexpected challenges in their early years of teaching. For a long time, education has left new teachers to sink or swim. NTI is aimed at supporting new teachers so they thrive,” says Jon Schaefer, director of the NTI program.

Begun in 2009 as a pilot program, NTI was a joint effort of the Commission for Lutheran Schools and Martin Luther College (MLC), New Ulm, Minn., to provide mentoring and support to new teachers; the program is now under the direction of Schaefer at MLC.

Schaefer is quick to highlight NTI’s benefits: “Teacher induction improves classroom management,” he says. “NTI can enhance teacher retention and provide principals with the support of a trained instructional mentor. Mentors also take new ideas and practices back to their own classrooms.”

More than 50 2014 MLC graduates are working with a trained mentor, including Abigail Kurth, who teaches grades 2-3 at New Hope Lutheran Academy, West Melbourne, Fla. “Being a first-year teacher is very busy. I have made so many changes to my classroom—everything from physical layout to management strategies to instructional procedures,” she says. “My mentor has been a big help as I make these changes.”

Jon Kulhanek, another member of MLC’s class of 2014, was assigned to grades 5-6 at Bay Pines, Seminole, Fla. “Getting a call to Florida was the last thing I expected,” he says. “My mentor helped by not only discussing classroom and teaching suggestions, but also how to survive in a completely new setting. It is such a blessing to have an experienced colleague in the ministry who is a phone call away.”

At the start, Kulhanek had mixed feelings about being involved in the NTI program. “To me, it seemed like it was an extension of student teaching evaluations. However, I am so thankful this program exists. My mentor and I see each other as equals working in God’s ministry. I don’t feel like I’m getting graded or being watched, but instead I have a peer with years of experience who is willing to give me advice and encouragement to aid me in the first years of my ministry.”

Jeff Loberger, principal at Christ the King, Palm Coast, Fla., serves as both Kurth’s and Kulhanek’s mentor. He communicates with them on a weekly basis and observes classroom instruction quarterly.

Loberger became a mentor two years ago because he has “a passion for teachers and the work they do.” As he builds a trust relationship with his mentees and helps them set goals, he says the program also benefits him as he discovers “innovative ideas” for the new teachers and sometimes from the new teachers. “It brings about a servant-heart attitude that helps me to realize that the kingdom we serve is larger than just the one congregation in which we have been called,” he says.

Principals are also happy with the program. Kurth’s principal, Benjamin Priebe, says, “I view Abby’s mentor as an additional member of our staff. His words of encouragement, his willingness to assist, and his love for the ministry here in the South Atlantic District have a positive influence on our first-year teacher.”

Priebe continues, “The NTI program has a trickle-down effect for all involved in ministry of a Lutheran elementary school. The students benefit from having a first-year teacher who has direct access to a teacher who has experienced some of the challenges that are associated with being a first-year teacher. Our ministry at large will greatly benefit . . . not only in the here and now, but for many school years to come.”

Schaefer says a future goal for the program is to “foster a collaborative culture and teacher leadership. Teaching is a life-long process that begins from the first day a teacher walks into class at MLC through induction and beyond. Being mentored during the first two years of ministry allows new teachers to value feedback and the opportunity to learn alongside experienced colleagues who share a sense of responsibility and accountability for the learning of all students. These are blessings that could benefit all teachers.”

NTI continues to need experienced teachers—either retired or still teaching—to serve as mentors. For more information, contact Professor Jon Schaefer at


Volume 102, Number 1
Issue: January 2015

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