I see you, New Teacher.
I see you scurry through the door each morning, loaded down like a pack mule with your teacher bags and lunch box, with your big smile and worried eyes. I see you because I remember.
Being a new teacher is tough. How can a person go through four years of college, including a dozen plus weeks of student teaching, and still feel utterly unprepared to do the job at hand?
Yes, it gets easier, especially if you are lucky enough to be placed in a position with supportive administration and helpful colleagues. But overall, the craft of educating the minds of students is always a challenge.
I live and teach in Arizona, a state that struggles to recruit and retain strong teachers. The causes are complex and political but the effect is devastating. Teachers are fleeing education and students are suffering. Pick any public school district in Arizona and you will find unfilled teaching positions or long-term substitutes because we cannot fill them with highly-qualified, trained and skilled teachers.
Although the problem may be widespread, fortunately so is the support. No matter what state you teach in, there are people who want you to succeed and are fighting to make things better: TeachStrong is one of the national efforts underway. It’s a partnership between dozens of educational leadership organizations campaigning to make “modernizing and elevating the teaching profession the top education policy of our time.”
Two of its guiding principles are aimed right at you: providing support for new teachers, in addition to providing significantly more time, tools and support for all teachers.
What Arizona Is Doing Right
In Arizona, I am a part of a team of teachers who have been working to help retain new teachers by providing a unique layer of support.
Two years ago, I received the honor of being a finalist for Arizona Teacher of the Year. Each year, the Arizona Educational Foundation recognizes 10 teachers, five of whom are finalists for the award. If you multiply that over the years that means there are scores of dedicated, exemplary teachers across the state ready to support and mentor those new teachers, especially in rural areas of our state.
When we all began reflecting on our experiences as teachers, we all could pinpoint the moment when someone intervened, recognized us as a leader in our field and encouraged us to stay the course. I was considering leaving teaching to stay at home with my young son when a colleague sought me out to facilitate a district-level professional development program. This vote of confidence was the push I needed to stay in my fifth year of teaching.
What if we could do the same for newer teachers? What if we could help show all the various paths available within education?
We are calling it the Teacher Partnership and for its pilot year, we have more than 20 Teachers of the Year and finalists thoughtfully partnered with more than 30 new teachers of the same grade level and content area within a rural school district in Arizona.
The new teachers participating already have mentors and instructional coaches from their districts. But the Teacher Partnership is different because it provides a support system outside of the familiar: a fresh perspective, awareness of broader opportunities and hopefully even a role model for teacher leadership.
Whether it’s a national movement like TeachStrong or a homegrown effort like our Teacher Partnership, there are many options for support and growth. But, there’s a small catch: You have to speak up and ask for help and advocate for yourself and for the profession.
We simply cannot leave it to a few vocal teachers to do all the speaking. We need you, New Teacher, to use your voice and be heard.