Setting New Teachers Up for Success in the Fall: Panel discussion on steps to take right now

July 26, 2023

Setting New Teachers Up for Success in the Fall: Panel discussion on steps to take right now

By Dr. Joshua H. Barnett, CEO


Teacher shortages are a continuing challenge across the country, particularly in schools serving minority, low income and rural students. That’s why supporting new teachers to be more effective earlier in their careers and retaining them in the classroom is critical for educational leaders nationwide. I spoke with five distinguished education leaders on this issue and the strategies they are using to recruit, develop and retain new teachers.

We covered the needs they are seeing in new teachers, how they are addressing those needs to create effectiveness early in a teacher’s career and, just as important, how to keep them in the classroom - despite daunting challenges. Our panelists provided an engaging and insightful look into the work being done in various states, districts and departments to help support new teachers who need it most. Meet the experts, and hear what they had to say:

It isn't just about the skills that they bring to the table.
Laura Roussel, Chief Academic Officer, Jefferson Parish Schools, Louisiana

Laura Roussel is Chief Academic Officer in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana’s largest district and a district that serves a large ESL student population, with more than 30% of its students entering school speaking a different language. New teachers in Jefferson Parish need help to engage this diverse population of students in the classroom.

In addition to supporting English language learners, new teachers need to learn how to build a positive environment in their own classroom - something that wasn’t necessarily explicitly taught in their program, Roussel said. 

“The experiences that the students bring to our classrooms today are very different than some of our teacher’s experiences, and this is out of our teachers’ control in many ways,” Roussel said. “It isn't just about the skills that they bring to the table…it is about how they are managing that environment. It requires a high level of emotional intelligence - they have to be very self-aware. They have to be motivated.”

Don't wait for the teachers to start struggling. Make sure that you build that planning time to sit down with that new teacher every week to provide support.
Vickie Carpenter, Assistant Superintendent, Perry Township Schools, Indiana

It can be hard to ask for help - especially for new teachers. Support from “day one” is a necessity, whether it's to help structure a lesson or walk through how to navigate individual student needs, a challenge that has evolved for teachers over time, Vickie Carpenter, a district leader in Perry Township Schools in Indianapolis explained.

“Our kids have struggled in ways we've never seen before,” Carpenter said. 

That’s why leaders at Perry Township Schools are prioritizing first-year educators by giving teachers the support they need with one-on-one coaching and mentoring by experienced educators, and help planning lessons that engage every student in the classroom.

The district has seen a surge of academic success in recent years that has been recognized nationally and internationally, even as their student population has become increasingly diverse with large numbers of refugee families and English language learners. Yet the challenges for new teachers to meet the needs of all students only grew during the pandemic. One principal at an elementary school in Perry Township Schools described a first year teacher that was struggling, according to Carpenter.

“She was stressed because she didn't know how to handle some of the student behaviors,” Carpenter explained. 

With the support of master and mentor teachers working with the principal to provide new teachers with support during weekly collaborative learning and individual coaching, Perry Township Schools is able to help its new teachers anticipate the needs of individual students, and plan for how to meet those needs during the course of a lesson.  Follow-up visits to the classroom provide real-time support as new teachers try new approaches and strategies.

I think it is very important that we show others through our words and actions how necessary teachers are.
Malekah Salim-Morgan, Deputy Assistant Superintendent of School Improvement, Louisiana Department of Education

In Malekah Salim-Morgan’s eyes, there is a clear state role in building strong and successful teachers - and following through on supporting them is critical for retaining those new to the profession. From her position supporting school improvement efforts at the Louisiana Department of Education, she described several of Louisiana’s initiatives to support teachers including the Comprehensive Recruitment and Retention Plan, the state partnership with NIET to train teacher and school leaders in instructional best practices, and the Go Teach Fund, which directly bolsters the pathway for high school graduates to enter teacher preparation programs. 

The state is seeing an increasing need for new teacher support. According to Salim-Morgan, Louisiana saw a spike in new teachers entering the workforce in the northern part of the state, where new teachers now make up 32% of the teacher workforce in that region. 

In addition to recruitment, programs and support from the state guide new teachers as they enter their first years in the classroom, according to Salim-Morgan. One of the statewide initiatives is Louisiana’s mentoring program, which was strengthened in 2020 through a requirement that mentors be trained and certified in order to host a resident teacher. The Department of Education approved selected organizations to train and certify mentor teachers, propelling professional growth in new and developing teachers. More recently, statewide training in best practices, and follow up support in classrooms, has been offered to schools in every district in the state, with a particular focus on high need schools. This investment by the state is strengthening the instructional leadership capacity in schools and, in turn, creating a support structure that better meets new teachers’ needs along with their more experienced peers. 

“We want to go first at the state level to support system leaders to make sure that they understand the needs that exist and they’re prepared to meet those needs through high-quality professional learning and ongoing support and feedback,” Salim-Morgan said.

A lot of challenges but also a lot of opportunities.
Dr. Shawn Foster, Superintendent, Orangeburg County School District, South Carolina

Superintendent Shawn Foster oversees a district the geographical size of Rhode Island serving 11,000 students, 86% of whom are minority and 77% of whom qualify for free and reduced lunch.

When he first stepped through the door in the role of superintendent for the Orangeburg County School District, he was faced with filling more than 180 teacher vacancies across 32 schools. Now, three years later, Foster said that number is 62 - down from 63 after they recently hired another teacher, he added with a smile.

Foster believes that close support isn’t only necessary for first-year teachers, but for all teachers that are new to a school district or setting, which is why every teacher that comes through the Orangeburg County School District receives coordination and support with the school staff and its partners. 

When asked about his own role in retaining new teachers, Foster described the structures in place for new teacher collaborative learning and coaching from school and teacher leaders. He also shared that one of his biggest impacts is building a relationship with new teachers, and he starts by knowing each new teacher on a first name basis. Thank you cards, rookie teacher of the month awards, teacher referral stipends and personal teacher buddy programs are all ways Foster and his administration work to make the district more like a family instead of simply a workplace.

We are bringing in students who traditionally had not been part of the teacher workforce.
Dr. Carlyn Ludlow, Associate Division Director, Arizona State University

Teacher preparation program leaders are seeing these challenges first hand as teachers and their professional pathways to teaching are changing, said Dr. Carlyn Ludlow, and that means recruiters and teacher coaches have to adjust their approach. In her role as an associate division director at Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at ASU, Ludlow has seen how the most diverse teacher-to-be pool in state history now needs different types of support systems than new teachers required in the past.

Recognizing the different pathways to the classroom is necessary, Ludlow said, to help create a teacher workforce that represents the students it serves.

She gave the example of ASU’s Teaching Fellows program, which specifically targets paraprofessionals with associates degrees who, for a variety of reasons, have not been able to obtain their bachelors degrees. Programs like the Teaching Fellows show that with the right funding and support, more people who are already a part of schools can become teachers. Ludlow shared the experience of a paraprofessional she met who was overcome with emotion at the thought of the fellows program giving her the opportunity to become a teacher.

“You could tell she's got a passion for kids and she wants to be there,” Ludlow said. “Why would we not do something to help her get - and stay - in the field?”

What do new teachers need? We asked, they answered.

We surveyed new teachers working with high-need student populations in a large district to learn what they perceive to be the most stressful aspects of their work, the support they need, and what factors contribute to their decision to stay in the profession. Surveys were administered to newly hired teachers during two pandemic years (2020-21 and 2021-22).

Here’s what they told us:

  • 97% of new teachers reported experiencing at least quite a bit of stress in their work. 
  • The top three types of support newly hired teachers reported needing were 1. Additional instructional planning time, 2. Additional instructional planning resources, and 3. Additional diagnostic tools to understand where students are in their learning.
  • The top three factors that newly hired teachers reported as contributing to their decisions to stay in the profession were 1. Support from administration, 2. Collegial working environment, and 3. Fair evaluations coupled with regular feedback.

About NIET: NIET has over 20 years of experience training teacher leaders and principals to coach classroom teachers. Teacher leaders taking on mentoring and coaching roles in NIET partner districts report they are more likely to remain in teaching, with nearly 90% agreeing that the opportunity for a leadership role increased their commitment to remain in teaching. Teacher retention in NIET partner schools where trained teacher leaders are providing classroom teachers with coaching and mentoring is 10 percentage points higher than the average teacher retention rate nationwide.