Recruitment & Retention

New Teachers Are Often Assigned to High-Poverty Schools. Why Not Train Them There?

By Brenda Iasevoli — August 03, 2018 4 min read
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This fall, the Denver public schools are piloting a program aimed at training new teachers in the buildings where they are most likely to be assigned: the city’s high-poverty schools.

The district is testing the strategy with six new “associate teachers” who will teach part-time and spend the remainder of their day observing master teachers in action and planning their own lessons.

“I hope to end the year with my feet under me, because I know how often new teachers end the year knocked off their feet,”

Kyle Jordan told Education Week. He will teach at North High School, one of three high-poverty schools that will serve as training grounds for associate teachers. (News of the pilot program for associate teachers was first reported by Chalkbeat.)

Many new teachers are hired in high-poverty schools where students are behind in math and reading, yet they are not trained specifically to meet the specific needs of these students. The challenge can be great for beginning teachers, as Jordan, who says he was “woefully under prepared” for his first and only year of teaching at an alternative school in Houston, quickly learned.

According to a report by the Learning Policy Institute, turnover rates are 50 percent higher in under-resourced schools, which serve more low-income students. The report estimates that each teacher who quits can cost an urban district as much as $20,000 on average.

“We know that training in a school that is most similar to where you will later teach, working alongside effective mentors, is the critical game-changing component that helps a teacher get better faster, stay longer, and ultimately have a really positive impact on student outcomes,” Laney Shaler, the director of teacher pathways and development for Denver public schools, told Education Week.

The associate teachers will have time not only to lead lessons, but also to reflect and master their craft before taking on their own classrooms full time. Denver’s goal over the next three years is to train 90 percent of new teachers—whether they are residents or graduates of traditional or alternative preparation programs—in high-poverty schools. Associate teachers will get paid a bit less than full-time first year teachers: $38,000 compared with $41,689.

The district contributed $150,000 to help fund the associate teacher pilot at three of the teaching academies located at these high-poverty schools: Goldrick Elementary, McAuliffe Manual Middle School, and North High School. These schools have also allocated funding in their budgets to pay for the program.

Stanford University education professor Linda Darling-Hammond calls the idea “brilliant.”

“This is a new movement in education,” Darling-Hammond said in an interview. “It’s the sign of a new way of thinking about how to bring in new teachers productively. It’s a great antidote to the traditional U.S. way of putting teachers in classrooms and letting them either sink or swim. Then you’ve got to put Band-Aids on because they’ve never learned to teach.”

It’s a lack of attention to preparing and mentoring novice teachers that accounts for the so-called “bad teachers” people complain about, according to Darling-Hammond. Many countries, she pointed out, don’t have the same worries over bad teaching, as they do more to ensure teachers get the training they need early on.

Darling-Hammond finds hope in programs like the one in Denver. The closest thing she could think of to the Denver pilot are teacher residencies, in which candidates get a year’s worth of training, often in high-poverty schools, under the tutelage of a master teacher before leading classrooms on their own. But some, including Harvard education professor Marty West, are skeptical about the residency model’s high price tag. West, who evaluated the Boston Teacher Residency and found that residents were less effective at improving math scores and no better at improving English scores, than other new teachers, told Chalkbeat that more analysis is needed to weigh the cost of residencies against the benefits. Louisiana, California, and Texas have all given money to build residencies in their states.

But the key, according to Darling-Hammond, is to train teachers in high-poverty schools that are emulating the best practices. Through the Denver pilot program, associate teachers are only placed in schools with high ratings and promising data. What’s more, since they only teach part-time, the associate teachers have more time for reflection and observation than they would in most residencies.

The Denver pilot is giving Jordan a second chance at mastering the teaching craft. He expects the extra training will bring him far-reaching benefits for the rest of his career. By next summer, he plans to take more teacher workshops and expand his pedagogy, “instead of worrying about those common second-year issues.”

Image: As one of six associate teachers in a new Denver public schools pilot program, Kyle Jordan will train for a year under a mentor teacher in a high-poverty school. —via Denver Public Schools

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.