Low SES and Minority Students More Likely to Have Inexperienced Teachers–How to Address this Challenge!

A new White House report reveals what many of us in education have known for a long time: our most needy students often times have the least prepared and experienced teachers.  The report states the share of first-year teachers was strongly correlated with the share of black and chart3_k12_sharefirstyrteachersHispanic students.  Nearly twice as many first-year teachers are teaching in predominantly minority schools (which are often times low SES as well) compared to schools with no minorities.

We know that teaching is a very difficult profession to gain mastery in and that it takes teachers 5-7 years to develop the content knowledge, pedagogy, and skill sets to become a master teacher.  For minority students, the constant revolving door of first-year teachers comes with the reality that their academic gaps will most likely not be closed with novice, inexperienced teachers.  Many schools and districts compound this challenge by placing minority students, often the ones with the most academic needs, in the most inexperienced teacher classrooms.

Our minority students deserve to have the same access to high quality teachers and resources as non-minority students.  Our low SES students, which often cross over racial demographics, deserve the very same access to high quality teachers.

Districts and campuses that serve minority students and low SES communities have to begin to think about providing the in-service support new teachers need in order to develop competencies and confidence as quickly as possible.  A well implemented teacher induction program is not only the best way to support new teachers in those crucial first years but it will also help improve the likelihood that new teachers stick around longer and become the invested teachers these campuses and districts need if they are to truly turnaround the achievement gaps in their system.

Here in West Oso ISD, we are trying to address this very need through our teacher induction program, Bear TIPS.  Our program seeks to provide 3 years of in-service support teacher-induction-logoto our new teachers.  We begin with a First Year Teacher Academy (FYTA) that meets with teachers six times during the first year.  We follow that up with a FYTA2 in year 2 that focuses on deepening teacher understanding of best practices and effective instructional strategies.  FYTA3 is in year 3 and focuses on assessing for learning.  The program also has specific mentor training so that our new teachers are supported by an experienced colleague on their campus in addition to the FYTA supports and the site leader support.  We add to these components a periodic newsletter that lets the entire district know what the FYTA teachers are working on and how to support our new teachers in those crucial first years.

We were fortunate enough to be recognized by Texas School Business magazine fobragging10r the Bragging Rights 2016-2017 issue as an innovative program.  We’re humbled to be included with the other 11 districts recognized in the issue.  We accept the recognition as proof that when district leadership wants to take specific steps to address the staffing challenges and the academic challenges that can come with minority dominant communities, great things can happen.

We know that much work remains and the struggle to provide our students with the highest quality teachers available will exist for some time.  We hope that we have at least modeled a way in which districts, small or large, can begin to address the needs of all students and create the equity we know should exist across the educational spectrum.

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We can’t afford not to invest in our teachers!

I read a very compelling article in the Harvard Business Review last month that highlighted the steps one fast food company in Tennessee uses to build a high functioning culture while attracting and keeping key personnel in an industry that is notoriously transient and arbitrary.

Click here for the story.

In the article Thomas Crosby, CEO of Pal’s Sudden Service, discusses how they build a culture of consistency, high performance, skill building, and success.  As a an educator that leads curriculum and instruction work for a district along with teacher induction and professional development programs, I was quick to note his big three points align quite well with the work all educational leaders should embark upon in their daily work with developing teachers and other staff on the campus.

While often times looking at a business world model for improvement can break down at some point when trying to compare it to the education world where we do not control the quality of the raw materials at the outset nor do we remove or kick out imperfect raw materials during the process of teaching students, the truths of this article can stand the test of time and cross over to the educational arena.

  1. The best companies hire for attitude and train for skill–As educational leaders, we can sometimes become overly focused on the content that needs to be taught and particular skill sets or backgrounds that teachers possess when we hire.  We will be better served (and so will our students) if we, instead, focus on exactly what kind of character and attitude our current and aspiring teaching staff possess and realize that we can teach and develop skill but the core of a person is much more difficult to mold.  Lesson for leaders: define and know what your core values are for your staff and your campus and skillfully measure anyone who wants to be part of your staff by those standards.
  2. Even great people need constant opportunities for improvement–As an educational leader, how do you check the “calibration” of your staff?  Just like machines, people can become uncalibrated.  We have to be specific and purposeful in how we design our professional development and how we ensure that our teaching staff participates in the appropriate and necessary type, style, and amount of training.  Moreover, we have to provide opportunities for our most talented educators to share what they know with others and to be a vessel for others to fulfill that constant need for improvement opportunities.
  3. Leaders who are serious about hiring also have to be serious about teaching–As an educational leader, one has to be committed to modeling an insatiable desire to learn for the entire campus.  Michael Fullan describes this as being a “lead learner”.  The most successful leaders formalize the learning and teaching (sharing) expectations for their campus or organization.  Pursuing knowledge and sharing the learning from that pursuit cannot be optional.

So there you have it.  Three statements of truth that work for leaders whether yTwo handsour running a fast food burger shop or a comprehensive high school or even a school district.
It matters what we do (or don’t do) when it comes to investing in our teachers and other instructional staff.  While some may argue that the task is too difficult or that there isn’t enough money/time or that it takes too much money/time, a quote by Thomas Crosby sums it up quite well:

“People ask me, ‘What if you spend all this time and money on training and someone leaves?’” Crosby says. “I ask them, ‘What if we don’t spend the time and money, and they stay?’”

-CS