A lot of people are commenting about how teaching has changed and advising young people to choose a different profession. I would never make such a recommendation to anyone as we all need to find our own way in the world. The choice to teach is one we must make on our own. What worries me more than finding good teachers to go into the profession is the need to keep the ones that we get.
It used to be that administrators, colleagues, mentors had the time and inclination to help all newbies get acclimated to the profession. This has really changed. Under all the new supervision and evaluation plans connected to No Child Left Behind and pressed by public interest groups, becoming a new teacher is a much harder row to hoe. Principals are less willing to hire new teachers with no experience and those they do hire receive less individual attention because all teachers need to be observed at least 3 times a year many of them formally. The school principal now meets at least 3 times a year with every teacher to establish goals, check in on those goals and review them at the end of the year.
When I started teaching, there was a new teacher meeting once a week. All the new teachers in the building met to discuss what issues they were facing, what questions they had, what children were especially challenging. Now, new teachers can hardly find time to meet with their mentor teacher. Most schools are having trouble finding, training and maintaining mentor teachers due to the inordinate amount of time and energy required to do so in addition to their regular teaching duties. all of the bureaucracy, forms, requirements, rigidity is killing good mentoring and shared learning.
What schools really need to do is make a concerted effort to establish an apprenticeship teacher program. Student teaching is not enough experience to really understand the profession of teaching. Schools should invest in training teachers up to a half-year prior to them being assigned to a classroom all by themselves. Why don’t schools utilize the teachers who are retiring from their position with their experience and expertise to train the teacher in their own classroom? Why don’t school districts invest the money and time it takes to truly train and support new teachers to the profession with someone who has already been doing the job for 30-40 years?
There is nothing like working with another adult in the classroom to bounce ideas, critique lessons, and offer suggestions. Teaching like carpentry is a skill and an art. In order to do it well, we need to see and hear good modeling of instruction. This would solve many problems with retaining new teachers. One, districts would have a ready-made mentor with whom new teachers would establish rapport and a relationship over time. Two, the teachers would get better at their craft. Nothing makes you a better teacher more than having to explain your thinking. Three, all new teachers could ease into the job instead of just being thrown in with a sink or swim mentality.
What ideas do you have for keeping teachers in the profession?