New Mexico is calling in the National Guard. Oklahoma is asking state employees to fill in gaps. And Minnesota is urging parents to jump in. Schoolteacher shortage nationwide has been a crisis for more than two years, and states and districts are feverishly reaching out to anyone and everyone to find classroom leaders.
The problem is expected to persist as educators cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, burnout and the prospects of better work-life balance. For administrators, one of the main goals is not only attracting new talent but also keeping current teachers in their positions, especially new ones. So how do they do that?
Aimee Schertz, Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert and Technology Integration Specialist at Joliet Catholic Academy in Illinois, told attendees at Tuesday’s Future of Education Technology Conference that a multilayered approach forged through a teacher induction program can help keep the passion and desire going, even in the most challenging environments. The program essentially empowers new teachers with multiple layers of supports for more than one year.
“We need to hang on to every person who’s coming out who’s good,” Schertz said. “Sometimes when we walk into school, people will say we have a mentoring program. But mentoring is just one part of a big program. When we take teacher support and we take mentoring, and we put them together, we get new teacher induction, which is any program designed to support and train teachers through multiple types of experiences. We have to have a lot of support.”
Why is it important? Schertz shared a story of a dynamic, difference-making teacher at her school who resigned after his second year over struggles with classroom management.
“We failed him. We failed our students. We failed this teacher. We failed our school, because this was a fantastic teacher that we lost for all students,” she said. “When I look back, I can’t help with thinking, had we had some things in place to support this teacher, it would not have been hard to keep him.”
An induction program might not prevent all teachers from exiting early, but its framework providers a very sound model of checks and balances as well as support from strong classroom leaders that can give administrators a fighting chance. There are effectively six steps that Schertz says can put schools in a better position to serve new teachers.
The first is identifying who should be in it—and that means more than just new and current teachers. It should include administrators and those who support teachers. The second is to gather as much data as possible to gauge both the pulse of the school environment through exit interviews and surveys (teachers who aren’t happy or feel unsupported) and what programs are in place to assist new teachers.
After determining outcomes through SMART assessments, leaders should conduct research to see how an induction program would work for them based on that feedback and whether funds for teacher retention and school leadership (ESSA Title II, Part A) exist to support it.
Having administrative backing is crucial. Principals are key players to include in any program.
“I know this can be a hard sell because sometimes they are so busy,” she said. “My very first year teaching, our principal was the one implementing it. She sat down with us at the table. I remember feeling so tied into the school and so a part of her vision for the school. It makes a huge difference. Some of our new teachers have never said two words to our principal. If you can get principals involved, if you are a principal and you can be involved, it can be a huge difference maker.”
The fifth step is designing the program, Schertz says, “based on teacher needs, resources, time and outcomes.” That includes a new teacher binder, acclimating new teachers to goals and visions before the school year begin, book studies and monthly teacher meetings with facilitators. Perhaps the most impactful component is mentoring. That should be done with experienced and passionate teachers, not those who are burned out. The relationship between mentor and mentee should be robust, regular and not just an occasional one-off.
“It’s not unusual for a mentor to be headed out the door, and say hey, is everything good today? Good. I’ll see you later,” Schertz says. “That’s not mentorship. There aren’t a whole lot of conversations that happen after that first week. For mentoring, we do something much more structured, that builds a relationship between these two people and keeps the conversation going throughout the first two years.
“New teachers cite lack of support and training as main reasons for exiting the teaching profession more so than salary. This is both terrible, and wonderful. Terrible that we’re not doing a good job at this. But wonderful, in that we can do this easily with no money. I can still support my teachers. I can give them training. We’ve got experts in our building.”
The last is simply to decide how the program should be installed logistically. Who is going to lead it? Will it also involve second-year teachers? And who will track whether the program is effective and when changes are needed? And maybe then, keeping teachers will reverse the trend.
“We’ve seen our first-year teachers. They are excited. They are ready to go. They are going to change some lives,” Schertz said. “Then we get to December, and it doesn’t feel like that anymore. It’s hard right now. Our new teachers feel that more acutely. We have to be very clear on expectations. New mentoring is different. It’s not just a half an hour over the course of the school year.”