Teacher Education Faculty and First Year Support

I think often about students I have worked with who are in their early years of their teaching career. I remember my early days in the classroom, feeling prepared and ready for the year, but eerily aware that there were many unknowns: student strengths and instructional needs, district and school policies, and the curriculum to plan, write, and prepare. There was no formal induction support, but I thrived with several informal mentors. I also knew other teachers who weren’t feeling successful and supported. As a result, they  often left teaching after their first few years. I served as an induction year mentor after my first two years of teaching. It was important to me to help other teachers succeed in their early years in the classroom. In addition to mentorship, research on effective teacher induction support programs suggests there are many ways we can support new teachers, including: workshops and seminars tailored to new teachers, targeted professional development, reduced workload, and common planning time (Ingersoll & Strong, 2011).

Flash forward to the present… I am now an assistant professor. I am well versed on the evidence about creating effective teachers and interested in retaining effective teachers, especially in the first years. Those early years, and my role as an induction year mentor and model reading teacher, have remained an important motivator in the work I do today teaching foundational education coursework in the areas of special education, inclusion, reading, and learning disabilities.

I don’t believe the task of induction support should be shouldered only by school districts. I think teacher preparation programs should have a role in supporting their graduates. The National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (2010), and other researchers, have suggested teacher preparation programs and school districts both need to be involved and connected to ensure continuity and coherence (Feiman-Nemser, 2001; Latham & Vogt, 2007; VanZandt Allen, 2013), just as faculty are part of the equation in other countries (Darling-Hammond, 2017).

Recent research suggests some teacher preparation programs are contributing to induction support and teacher knowledge in innovative ways. Examples of strategies include:

  • helping new teachers develop personal and professional identities (see Henderson, Noble, & Cross, 2013)
  • supporting graduates in the first five years in attending a Summer Curriculum Writing Institute (see VanZandt Allen, 2013)
  • facilitating book studies as professional development (see Dolan, 2017)

We should also make sure these approaches go beyond basic support and challenge our graduates to have academic and scholarly pursuits. It shouldn’t just be about the day to day support, but also continuing to build a foundation of ideas and resources that will carry an educator through their career. Do the deep dives in content and pedagogy. Complete action research. Stay in touch. Ask new teachers what they need. Teach them how to reflect.

No matter your role in education (teacher, administrator, university faculty), there are myriad ways you can contribute to the retention, mentoring, and continued preparation of teachers in their first few years.

If you are a new first or second year teacher (or new to a district) and your district offers induction support: please sign up. This is a chance to get advice, feedback on your teaching, a clearer understanding of policies and expectations, and improve your student outcomes (Ingersoll & Kralik, 2004; Strong, 2009). Expect that learning will continue.

If you are a teacher or administrator in a state or district that doesn’t provide induction support: please get involved and speak up. The New Teacher Center (2011) reviewed all state policies on teacher induction. Check out your state here: https://newteachercenter.org/policy/state-policy-reviews/

If you are faculty in a teacher preparation program: please review what your department is doing and your contribution/service in this area. Ask yourself, “Is there a way for me to provide service through supporting induction year teachers?”

As a faculty member, I am going to take the next step here for me: supporting a first-year teacher in action research and writing and reflecting on it through the year. She asked, I listened. By now you’ve probably already read the first blog in a new series by Bev Chatfield. Watch for more planned reflections in this 10 month blog series chronicling some of the intellectual work of a first-year teacher and how we are working through it with action research, reflection, and dialogue.

The first years are the most important in retaining teachers. How are you supporting first year teachers?How are you supporting teachers new to your school or district?

 

Heather Haynes Smith is an Assistant Professor at Trinity University in San Antonio, TX. Prior to Trinity she worked as an elementary teacher, K-12 literacy coach, state level reading technical assistance specialist, and program coordinator on research and dissemination grants related to reading and teacher preparation at The University of Texas, Vaughn Gross Center for Reading and Language Arts. She was a doctoral fellow at The University of Kansas, Beach Center on Disabilities, graduating in 2012 with her PhD in Special Education. Her research focuses on students with disabilities and the integration of academic and emotional/behavioral supports at the student and systems levels. She also studies effective pedagogy in special and general education teacher preparation. She is most interested in supporting the goals of inclusion in schools and society. She supports literacy efforts regionally and nationally, especially for students with LD or who struggle to read.

I’m Here To Learn

A little about me in the month before my first year begins

To be perfectly honest, I’m nervous about my first year of teaching. I’ve spent the summer
reviewing learning theory and teaching strategies, reading radical books about equity and power dynamics in the classroom, building an elaborate teacher emergency kit filled with everything from pepto to a tiny hair straightener, and trying to find the courage to refresh my memory of physics. Yes, physics – the subject that sends shivers down the spines of rising high school juniors and, for many others who have taken the course, flashbacks of nightly fifty-problem homeworks straight from the textbook.  Physics has a bad reputation of being isolating and difficult. As someone who struggled through physics courses in both high school and college, I know first hand how true that can be.

Early in my college career, I was determined to become a math teacher through the more common route of majoring in physics with a minor in education but I quickly became overwhelmed by the independent lecture/homework structure of learning in college level math classes. In hindsight, it seems like fate that I took my first education course during my second attempt at Calculus II; the more I suffered in math, the more I ached for a learning environment that used research-based strategies and theories to ensure the understanding of its students. I was introduced to the idea of learning communities, classroom structures that encourage students to learn collaboratively towards shared goals, and I constantly imagined how such communities could improve my
experience in math. I continued taking Calc II until I passed it on the fourth try, having changed my major to Philosophy and taken on a fifth year of private university to do so. By then, I was hell-bent on teaching math with learning theory in mind so I pursued a Master of Arts in Teaching.

I took a long, difficult, and less travelled road to becoming a teacher and I believe that I’m
personally the better for it. I’ve learned how to work hard and recover from failure, I’ve met a network of creative and intelligent people through talking about my own passions, and I’ve been given many exciting opportunities like this one by being willing to take risks with people I trust.

How I’m going to make my teaching intellectual my first year

My experiences in education and philosophy over the last six years have instilled in me a love of research and self-reflective learning. It seems that the natural progression of this would be to participate in some scholarly exploration in my first year of teaching. Similarly, it seems natural that I should continue to be mentored by a faculty member who guided me through academic and professional quandaries in the past. With Heather’s encouragement and knowledge of the process, I’ll be improving my teaching this year through action research.

I believe that the best way to become good at anything is to study it. I don’t want to just keep my head above water this year; conducting action research will allow me to hone my craft and provide my students with a thoughtful and intentional academic experience that considers their social, emotional, and academic needs through community-based learning. I’m still nervous but I know exactly where to channel that excited energy: becoming the best teacher I can be.

Now some things I want to know from you!

How are other first year teachers reflecting on their practice?
What are other first year teachers reflecting on? (parent communication, reading instruction, etc.)
Can action research help me be a better teacher?

First year teacher – passionate about community and equity

Calling All Social Workers!

Schools are dynamic and increasingly complex spaces.  The need for “all hands on deck” is apparent yet not always provided, supported, funded, or valued.  For learners who receive special education supports as well as social work services, the collaboration is critical but, honestly, rare and difficult.  School-based social workers (some schools do still have this role!!) are limited in their ability to support the whole child through family and community involvement, primarily focused on the child’s engagement at and with school.  Community social workers are limited in their ability to support the whole child through school involvement, primarily focused on the child’s safety and well-being at home.  Therefore, we have a wide gap in communication, collaboration, and supports for learners and their families between school and home.

That said, I would argue that bridging this gap has never been more critical.  Special educators need you!  They want you!  Check out the hashtag #armmewith on social media and you will see teachers literally begging for your expertise and collaboration! They know they are not adequately trained or prepared for the complicated and intense needs of their learners and their learner’s families.  They know that families cannot attend to the daily demands of their child’s school, (i.e. back pack mail, library books due, lunch money) if they are focused on safety and basic needs. But they do not have the family systems knowledge or skills to support families in the ways you can.

I have a teacher right now who has a learner in her self-contained special education classroom who sleeps all day.  A lot of people live in his house, from very young babies to elderly grandparents.  He isn’t coming to school ready to learn because he isn’t able to get sleep at home.  His teachers are frustrated and blaming the family because the child is too sleepy to learn.  They complain that they’ve called social services to no avail.  The school does not have a social worker.  Could collaboration with a social worker benefit the child, the family, and the teachers?  The teachers say yes.  They feel powerless to provide a meaningful education to this little guy and they want help.  What do you say?  Can you envision ways of supporting this learner, his family, his teachers?

When I asked teachers what they want social workers to know about collaborating with special educators, they resoundingly said they crave your expertise in families and services.  They feel ill equipped to serve in that role and are desperate for your partnership.  One said, “I wish schools would take the money they spend on security guards and spend it on social workers.”  Let’s push to make that reality.

We also need to create a unified system so that school personnel and social workers and other community supports can communicate regularly and meaningfully in developing and providing services to learners and their families.  If a community social worker could attend the IEP (Individualized Education Program) meeting of a child they are supporting, it could make a world of difference in how that plan is presented to meet the educational needs of the learner in a way that builds up the family as a whole.

My first job in my field after graduating with a Masters of Education in Early Childhood Special Education was as an Infant-Toddler Specialist serving young children and their families with developmental delays or disabilities in their homes.  Of my caseload of around 20 families, about half were in the custody of the Department of Social Services.  I knew next to nothing about all of the resources and supports provided by social workers initially but I learned quickly that my previous beliefs and expectations were way off.  I’d long been told that DSS does nothing with reports of abuse or neglect, that they’re paper pushers, overworked, underresourced, lacking empathy.  I experienced none of that.  I collaborated with amazing social workers who focused entirely on creating safe environments for kids and supporting families in getting the services they needed to become adequate parents.

Then I moved into a public school setting and while my students were the same population I had been serving in home based services, the collaboration with social services completely ended.  I never saw another social worker or had any opportunity to collaborate with families in their involvement with social services.  Special educators want and need to work with you but they need to understand that your responsibility and priority is in strengthening families, rather than removing children and penalizing families.

We have a long way to go in understanding each other but we have to get at the same table, in the same room, same building to begin meaningfully providing learners with the best both of our field’s have to offer.

WE NEED YOU!!

Jen Newton, PhD is an assistant professor in early childhood/early childhood special education (isn’t that a lot of words for what should be one field??).  I talk a lot and have strong opinions – or so I am told.

Three Things You Can Do Tomorrow To Build Classroom Community

Build relationships, you say.  Teach the behavior I want to see, you say.  Build community, you say.

Haven’t I been doing that??

Often, the draw to visible behavior management systems for teachers is the act of doing something.  Let’s take a common example in any classroom:  A learner is talking while the teacher is talking.  What are the teacher’s options in that moment?  I’ll brainstorm a few.  a)  She can stop teaching and wait patiently until the learner redirects him/herself back to the lesson.  b) She can call the learner by name and ask for their attention.  c)  She can move her body closer to that of the off-task learner in an attempt to bring their attention back to learning.  Okay, that’s three, and all three are assuming everyone else in the class is rapt with attention to the engaging and fascinating content presented.

So, maybe it’s not so easy.

If I have a visible behavior management system, though, I can ask the learner, in front of their peers, to move their clip/remove a marble/write their name on the board/stand by the wall at recess/anything I want.  It’s a system, it’s fast, children respond, this is effective, right?  Peer shame is an excellent motivator, right?

No.  It’s not.

I do understand, however, the draw to do something about the off task, defiant, non-compliant behaviors all kids (and adults!) demonstrate sometimes (or often!).  We should be prepared for it because they are natural responses to our American educational model.  I remember when a former student/first year teacher texted me while setting up her room two days before her very first group of incredibly lucky four-year-olds started school.  She said something along the lines of, “Jen, I need a system, right? Like red light/green light, or, like, some teachers have cars, should I have cars, or I saw someone had an actual stop light but someone was laminating bugs but I don’t know how that one worked, and I don’t know what system I need.”  I asked her to catch her breath, slow down, talk to me about this “system” needed.  And it all tumbling out about how there have to be consequences and she knows she took two behavior courses and she didn’t realize she never even learned a system and now she was about to have her own class of real life preschoolers and no system!!

I do understand the very strong pull and the courage NOT having a visible system requires.

So, let’s identify three things you can incorporate into your day tomorrow.  Three small shifts, little changes, that make a big difference with learners.

  1. Greet each and every learner by name.  Ask a minimum of one question of the child beyond “how are you?”  Identify something on which to compliment the child, while trying to steer clear of physical appearance.  Start their school day off right.  By seeing each and every child, you acknowledge their strengths and their needs, consciously accept all they are, and commit to teaching them.
  2. Develop a system for identifying “braggables” about each learner in your class.  Then call 2-3 parent/caregiver after school 2-3 days a week and tell them something awesome about their kid.  Connecting caring adults with positive feedback, funny stories, brilliant writing, whatever the “braggable” is, goes a long way in building classroom community.  It also makes it a lot easier to have the difficult conversations if the need arises.  Building relationships with learners means building relationships with families.
  3. Build in time for kids to talk to each other and to you!  When we restrict their social interactions, we limit their ability to work productively in pairs, small groups, large groups because they use that precious time to catch up, rather than work.  My daughter’s parent/teacher conference report said “too social, especially at work time.”  My daughter’s response:  It’s the only time we get to talk!  Give them time and strategies for large group sharing, pair sharing, and small group chats.  I know it sounds counterintuitive but it really does make for smoother running classrooms.

 

What do you think?  What did I miss?  What works for you?  Tell us!

Jen Newton, PhD is an assistant professor in early childhood/early childhood special education (isn’t that a lot of words for what should be one field??).  I talk a lot and have strong opinions – or so I am told.

Things I Know

  • Tiara
    Tiara Brown

    Even the youngest of children are more perceptive than you think. They are watching. They are listening. They will mimic the people in their surroundings. Be an example.

  • Young children can’t be “MEAN”. For toddlers there is a difference between compliance and understanding. Young children may follow directions but this does not mean they understand right and wrong. Don’t expect this at this stage as developing a conscious comes with time.
  • High quality childcare and early intervention are IMPORTANT and PROVEN to increase academic skills and social competency. The focus on these two areas cannot be underestimated.
  • Research continues to show us children have an untapped capacity for learning. Teachers should remember this and use different modes to cultivate this potential. Never underestimate the ability of any child.
  • Access to high-quality educational opportunities is a HUMAN RIGHT.
  • Teaching should be intentional, purposeful, and meaningful. Allow mistakes but give meaningful feedback. Teachers cannot expect children to learn if they are not given explicit and meaningful advice.
  • Inclusion is good for everyone if it is done correctly. Period.

What do you know?  Tell me!!

Things I Know

  • Educational contexts will not improve until we demand professionalism of the field. That begins in teacher education. Set a high bar for faculty. Teacher education is not a place for career teachers to transition. It’s a career in and of itself with specific knowledge and skills separate from those demanded in K12 environments.
  • Parenting is hard and no supports exist for doing it well. Everyone is not an expert on child development nor does everyone have access to an expert on child development. Unrealistic expectations abound and parents and kids struggle as a result.
  • Every. Single. Person. is doing the best they can with what they have. Behavior is communication and serves a purpose so seek to understand rather than punish. Address the cause of the behavior rather than the behavior itself.
  • Mistakes are unavoidable and necessary components of learning.
  • Typical grading systems do not reflect learning.  They’re more reflective of compliance with teacher preferences.  If you give/get attendance points, drop a letter grade for late submission, or in any other way use grades to compel behavior, you are abusing the system.  Grades are communication of mastery.  That’s it.  Not behavior.
  • Meaningful inclusion means each and every learner is a valued member of the classroom and school community. Supports are in place in order to reach the high expectations set for each student.  Fair is not always equal as we each need different supports for success.
  • Every.  Single.  Family.  Loves their child and is doing the absolute best they can with their specific realities.  Empathy is foundational to effective teaching.

What do you know?  Tell me!!

Jen Newton, PhD is an assistant professor in early childhood/early childhood special education (isn’t that a lot of words for what should be one field??).  I talk a lot and have strong opinions – or so I am told.

Sharing is Caring? Nope. Sharing Sucks.

Kids need to learn to share.  They have to share precious resources with siblings.  They have to share with others at school.  Sharing is a mainstay topic on Sesame Street.  Parents pull their hair out because their kids “can’t” share.  Sharing is caring, a way of life.

Or is it?

Merriam-Webster says “sharing” is 1) a portion belonging to, due to, or contributed by an individual or group and 2) one’s full or fair portion 

Jen Newton says sharing is having enough for everyone including yourself (e.g. birthday treats) and TAKING TURNS is giving “one’s full or fair portion” to another with nothing for yourself.  Sharing is altruistic and happy, it feels good.  Turn taking means waiting, giving up what you had and probably want, for someone else’s happiness.  They are not the same thing but we do tend to confuse them when talking with and about kids.

Adults rarely, if ever, give up treasured items for nothing in return.  Think about it.  When was the last time you gave up something you wanted, really really wanted?  We ask kids to do this all the time.  We tell them they aren’t kind or good friends to others if they do not want to give what they have to someone else.

Adults have to take turns.  We actually do a lot of turn taking in our grown up life; stop lights, grocery store check out lines, drive through ATMs (do people still do that?).  Many adults do not do this well, patiently, with kindness.  Despite our expectations for kids to  willingly and readily “share,” we rarely model this giving-up-of-a-preferred-object-for-nothing-in-return version of caring in our own lives.

So why do we expect kids to do it?  And do it willingly and happily?

The truth is, kids do share willingly and happily.  They just don’t take turns as easily.  Ever curse under your breath at the car in front of you who hasn’t moved despite the light turning green?  Yes?  Then you don’t take turns easily either!

Teaching children to take turns involves strategy.

  1. Start with making turns brief so children do not have to wait long to be rewarded for patiently waiting.
  2. Try a timer, the duration of a song, five pushes on a swing, something tangible even young children can count, or hear, or see.
  3. Provide SPECIFIC feedback for waiting patiently.  “I know how hard it is to wait and you are doing so very patiently.”
  4. Validate that waiting is hard.  Tell your children or students about times when it’s hard for you to wait.  Reveal that turn taking takes effort for all of us – grown ups, too!

Sharing is great!  We all love sharing because we get to bring smiles to the faces of others and ourselves all at the same time!  Turn taking takes teaching and practice and reinforcement.  How do you teach turn taking?

Jen Newton, PhD is an assistant professor in early childhood/early childhood special education (isn’t that a lot of words for what should be one field??).  I talk a lot and have strong opinions – or so I am told.

Teaching Is Intellectual Work

Educators hear it all the time.

“Must be rough to just play with kids all day.”

“Wiping noses and tying shoes, huh?”

“Summers off and work day ends at 3:00?  What do you have to complain about?”

Wrong.

The first five years of life are arguably the most critical in the development of brains, in empathy, in language, in social emotional development, in ways that set the course for a child’s entire lived experience.  Early childhood educators are doing the most critical work of a society – they are investing in the development of humans.

Join us.

We will use this space to promote evidence based practices and to shine light on alternatives to the cookie cutter approaches in education.  We will dismantle beliefs about children and families that do harm and put limits on growth.  We will explore how we can grow toward strengths-based approaches that celebrate the first five years and open the doors for the potential within every child.

Come with us.  

Jen Newton, PhD is an assistant professor in early childhood/early childhood special education (isn’t that a lot of words for what should be one field??).  I talk a lot and have strong opinions – or so I am told.