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.