I started working in restaurants in high school and continued through college. I worked different positions: hostess, cocktail server, food server, and bartender. With each new position came training. When training was finished, I was slowly eased into my new position. I was assigned the slowest, shortest shifts and the smallest stations. As I gained competence and confidence, I would gradually be given busier shifts and bigger stations. The responsibilities of a seasoned staff member weren’t placed on me until I was ready.
This idea of a reduced workload for new staff isn’t isolated to restaurants. It’s the way most professions mold and develop beginning staff. New attorneys aren’t given the most important cases, new marketing advertisers don’t get the biggest clients, and new insurance underwriters are limited on the number of policies they can sell.
Yet, we throw brand new teachers into classrooms and expect them to perform at the same level with the same circumstances as a 30-year veteran.
Why does this matter? It matters because Arizona is bleeding teachers and it’s not just because baby boomers are retiring. According to a study by the Morrison Institute, 42% of the teachers hired in 2013 were gone by 2016. Among the chief complaints: heavy workloads and lack of support.
If we know our fledgling teachers are leaving because the work expected of them is beyond their experience and expertise, why do we continue to put brand new teachers in the position to fail? The answer is, as it always is, money. It’s expensive to give new teachers the supports that would reduce their workload such as smaller class sizes, instructional assistants, and mentors.
Ideally, the state of Arizona would adequately fund education so that resources that would lighten a new teacher’s workload could be provided. However, history tells us not to count on that happening. As building leaders, we need to get creative with how we can reduce the workload for our new educators.
This year, with the blessing and support of my administrators, I’m piloting a system with two of our new teachers. They get one extra release time per week (in addition to their regular prep periods). This time is not for professional development or training or anything else that will add more to their already very full plates. The idea is to reduce their workload, not increase it with yet another meeting.
The time is spent with me and the teacher gets to set the agenda. The agenda can be filled with anything they want or need. One time, we spent the entire time just reorganizing the Google doc my first year teacher was using for lesson plans. When our time was up, she said, “I can’t tell you how great this makes me feel. I’ve hated how this form was organized, but I don’t have the time and I don’t understand Google docs well enough to figure out how to change it on my own.” The takeaway? Sometimes, a new teacher just needs help with mundane tasks to make her world feel right again.
These novice teachers and I have spent time placing students in small groups, figuring out the online grade book, deciding how to rearrange desks, discussing classroom management, and grading papers. I’ve role played a parent so the teacher can practice having the conversation she’s been putting off and dreading. I’ve also role played the administrator so she can practice advocating for herself. We’ve written parent newsletters, gone over test scores, and made copies. We’ve navigated the RtI process and brainstormed interventions. And sometimes, we just talk.
We spend the extra time accomplishing tasks that they would otherwise have to navigate on their own, with time and knowledge they don’t have. In addition to the extra time, they have a mentor with them to help. Is it enough? Of course not. Our beginning teachers need all the things I mentioned before: smaller classes, instructional assistants, and mentors. But, I’m tired of watching teachers struggle and crumble under the weight of expectations that should have never been placed on them to begin with; and I’m tired of watching those teachers leave the profession because they are exhausted and defeated.
This is my small attempt to stop the exodus. Maybe the decision makers in my district will see what we are doing on my campus is working and find resources to replicate it throughout the other schools. If we see an increase in teacher retention, maybe it will put a spotlight on the need for new teacher supports that go far beyond a 3-day induction. But, even if none of that happens, I’ll be satisfied with the note that was left on my desk by one of the teachers that talked about quitting teaching earlier this year, “The extra time and support has been AMAZING. Thank YOU.”
Our role as mentors and coaches is to help teachers find their inner superhero. Unfortunately, we often lose our new teachers before they fully develop their superpowers. But, if we listen to our new teachers, they often know what they need to be a superhero. They just need a sidekick along the way. Call me Robin.
As building leaders, what are you doing to support your new teachers? How can we reverse the trend we are seeing in Arizona?