Why new teachers are not prepared for today’s school climate

Building the social-emotional competence of prospective educators and their ability to support their students should begin in college coursework. But it requires more than a “one-and-done” approach.
Lisa Micou
Lisa Micouhttps://www.apertureed.com/
Dr. Lisa Micou is an adjunct associate professor in the University of Richmond School of Professional and Continuing Studies. She also serves as a director of program implementation for Aperture Education, a of social-emotional skills assessment and intervention solutions.

The state of the teaching profession—from teacher burnout and record numbers of resignations to fewer young people pursuing education degrees—continues to dominate the headlines. The real news may be those rare educators who have been at the same school or even in the same classroom for 20 or more years. What’s their secret? Why have they lasted in a job that is no longer appealing to so many?

Take a closer look at these long-time educators and you’ll likely see that they have high job satisfaction because their fundamental needs are being met. They:

  • Feel valued by their colleagues and administrators
  • Have a strong network to support them
  • Are prepared to handle whatever comes their way
  • Have the autonomy to grow as a teacher, ensuring they can adapt to meet their students’ needs and achieve schoolwide goals simultaneously

So, why has the system failed others who are fleeing the classroom or not even considering careers in education? I believe that current and future teachers are not well prepared for the realities of the classroom, particularly from the social-emotional angle that is fundamental for both their own and their students’ success.

Building the professional social-emotional competence of prospective educators and their understanding of how to support their students should begin in college coursework. But it requires more than a “one-and-done” approach.

Professional development must be prioritized and re-envisioned for those working in the classroom to ensure all teachers have the grace and space to foster practical social-emotional skills that enable them to excel professionally and be personally satisfied in their chosen career.

Social-emotional skills are fundamental

The positive impact of well-implemented social-emotional skills programs on students is well documented. Such programs help students develop skills like problem-solving, self-regulation, impulse control and empathy. These skills are key to achieving academic success, improving classroom environments, and minimizing bullying and other negative social behaviors. Social-emotional skills translate beyond the classroom, too. They help students in everyday life when it comes to making productive decisions and becoming successful members of their community.

During my 19-year career, I’ve seen how educators are expected to lead social-emotional programming and be social-emotional role models for their students and colleagues. They also are expected to know how to use social-emotional skill development curricula, embed social-emotional skills into academic instruction and collaborate effectively with caregivers to build family engagement. But that is a lot to ask of educators, who may not have had the opportunity to hone their own social-emotional skills in preparation for college or their teaching career.

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There must be a stronger connection between certification requirements, what is taught in college coursework concerning the realities of the classroom, what is expected of teachers, and how they are supported in their classrooms to meet those expectations.

According to one report, the overwhelming majority of teacher education programs in 49 states did not address any of the five core social-emotional learning dimensions. There is a distinct need, according to a Learning Policy Institute study, to foster the social-emotional skills of teachers to prepare them to support the needs of their future students.

Teacher prep programs now are beginning to understand the importance of embedding social-emotional skill development content into coursework. Some universities are even developing separate certifications for social-emotional skill development.

Building blocks for the future

Given current and likely future challenges of meeting the diverse social and emotional needs of students in our classrooms, the existing way we support the preparation and professional development of educators simply does not prepare educators fully for the realities of the classroom nor does it meet the most basic and psychological needs of today’s teachers to ensure that educators will remain in the classroom. Strengthening social-emotional skills must begin as individuals prepare to become teachers. And it must continue after they step into the classroom and throughout their time as educators.

Educators must be taught how to support their professional social-emotional growth, as well as develop the skills they need to share these valuable lessons with their students. But it doesn’t have to be complicated. To ensure that teachers have a strong foundation, universities and school districts should consider the ABCs of integrating social-emotional skill development into coursework and professional development:

  1. Agency—Teachers need support identifying how to leverage their expertise. Plus they must be confident that the intentional choices they’re making will produce positive outcomes. New – and even seasoned – teachers often have a hard time connecting what they see from their students with strategies they can apply to make an impact. Data gathered from strength-based assessments can be valuable here. This information can provide teachers with insights pinpointing where students need support and guidance on how to creatively integrate these lessons throughout the school day alongside core academics.
  2. Belongingness—Educators need intentional time and purposeful outlets to help them connect with each other and build a supportive community. It goes far beyond the occasional happy hour or team bonding activity. Even staff meetings or professional learning communities (PLCs) rarely dedicate sufficient time to modeling social-emotional skill development strategies, practicing skills and connecting with others about their experiences. In the college classroom, for example, future educators can engage with each other through community circles. This long-standing practice supports learning and builds connections and trust among peers and is easily replicable in a professional setting. Once in the classroom, job-embedded PD is key. Teachers must have a voice in PD, collaborating on content, expectations and outcomes to ensure that they are given agency in how to grow and are capitalizing on collective self-efficacy in order to grow alongside their colleagues. Ultimately, the limited time teachers have to improve their own skills must be used effectively and provide a clear connection to how it applies to helping their students succeed.
  3. Competence —Educators need the grace, space and permission to grow the skills that are meaningful to them and that have a positive impact on their expertise and their students. Even though most schools have professional growth systems in place, the goals are often mandated by administrators or the district based on end-of-year assessment data. These edicts leave no room for intertwining professional and personal growth. Teachers must be encouraged to ask for help where they need it – not judged when they do. And more importantly, there must be time set aside for mentorship, with guidance provided on how to be an effective mentor or mentee.

Immediate action is required to stem the continuing exodus of long-time, excellent educators and encourage the next generation to enter the classroom with confidence and competence. The first step entails integrating social-emotional skill development into college coursework so future teachers can hone their own social-emotional skills and feel confident in modeling them for their students. This will provide future educators with a strong foundation for success when they enter the classroom.

Then, current educators need continual support, with PD and other strategies that encourage them to learn new skills and engage in lifelong learning. This approach will ensure that members of the teaching profession feel valued, feel that their voice matters, and feel empowered to continue making a difference in the lives of their students.

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