A new school year has begun as the nation tries to manage the threat posed by the coronavirus Delta variant. Parents and teachers alike are focused on the children: How can we keep them safe? How can we help them get back on track after so much turbulence last year? How can we deal with the social-emotional learning challenges created during the last 18 months?
But what about the new teachers, administrators, and others stepping into a classroom or school office for the first time?
Here are five measures that educator-preparation colleges can take this year to help these new educators succeed and lower the damaging rates at which new teachers leave the field:
1. Build and support school learning communities. Both schools and local educator-preparation programs can help establish and sustain these informal groups. Typically, learning community groups meet at lunch hour or other breaks on-site during the school day, although with Zoom and other tools they can be virtual, interschool events. These groups are like informal continuing education classes, with teachers learning from each other about current practical issues they face. Local education preparation institutions could easily establish cohorts of new teachers who could meet on Zoom to celebrate wins and discuss challenges. Or they could connect freshman teachers in the same school or district and encourage them to create these meetings.
2. Design “contact chains” so newer teachers can reach out rapidly. Contact chains (lists of who calls whom for help) are a related and valuable tool to provide new teachers with an immediate and rapid way to reach out for help from colleagues. Whom can a new teacher text or instant message during class when a specific problem arises? Perhaps it’s a professor from their preparation program, a more senior colleague, or even an assistant principal. These easy-to-reach support networks can help educators respond to challenges in their classroom armed with their peers’ real-world experience. This kind of immediate support is the best way to avoid long-term problems.
3. Hold interviews and focus groups frequently. This will help monitor how well teacher candidates and recent graduates are doing physically, emotionally, mentally, and professionally. It’s important for prep programs to check in on how their alumni are doing in their new roles, both to evaluate whether they have adequately prepared them for the rigors of the classroom or the office and to offer support and counsel when needed. Local programs could share their data with schools and districts so that they, too, can aid novice educators. New educators need to be heard to be supported—this is one way of doing so.
4. Adjust curricula or courses to recognize the social-emotional needs of educators. Social and emotional learning for students has been a topic of much interest during the pandemic. However, it is just as crucial that the social and emotional needs of teachers are addressed as well. This is where educator preparation curricula can integrate coping mechanisms for teachers, stress response training (mindfulness, yoga, and similar modalities are popular), and wellness material. Bringing in practicing counselors, social workers, and psychologists to campus could also help educator-preparation faculty learn practical ways to support new teachers’ social and emotional needs in the school setting.
5. Include more teachers, school nurses, counselors, and school psychologists on educator-preparation college advisory councils. Advisory councils for educator-preparation institutions are now mandated by many states and accreditors, but many don’t include practitioners and representatives from other school-bound professions, including school psychology, counseling, and nursing. These representatives could strengthen institutional understanding of new teachers’ needs and offer concrete ideas for how to support them. In addition to advisory councils, some preparation programs are starting to bring in faculty from other schools of study—notably social work, psychology, and even medicine—to help guide programs and offer counsel to education faculty.
We know that teacher and school staff turnover has challenged schools for years, with 8 percent of the teaching workforce leaving every year. It is likely that the churn rate will increase with current pressures on the profession—1 in 4 have considered quitting teaching after last year, according to a recent RAND Corp. survey. Educator-preparation colleges have a big part to play in the crucial task of supporting new teachers.
A version of this article appeared in the September 08, 2021 edition of Education Week as How Educator-Prep Programs Can Support New Teachers This Year