3 Ways to Support Early Career Teachers Beyond the COVID-19 Pandemic

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The COVID-19 pandemic presented a host of new difficulties for teachers, as many transitioned to remote learning under tight timelines and found new and creative ways to serve their students. This Teacher Appreciation Week, we recognize the work of so many teachers during such a difficult year and thank them for their continued work with students across the nation.

As we express gratitude for all educators during Teacher Appreciation Week, one group of teachers may benefit from specific support from policymakers this year — early career educators. Prospective teachers finishing educator preparation programs and teachers in the first few years of their careers continue to face unique challenges during the pandemic. These challenges range from disrupted student teaching and mentoring experiences to navigating distance learning as new teachers.

The early career years are a fragile stage in an educator’s career in non-pandemic times, as studies estimate that 30% to 45% of teachers leave the profession within the first five years on the job. This high turnover rate may be particularly concerning to policymakers dedicated to recruiting and retaining a more diverse workforce, as recent gains in the recruitment of teachers of color could be lost without attention to keeping early career educators in the classroom.

Given the particularly difficult circumstances brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, policymakers may consider research-based strategies to show appreciation for new teachers and improve retention — including flexibility around clinical experience, effective mentorship and compensation.

Clinical Experience

Research shows that teacher candidates are more successful in their first year when they have opportunities to engage in actual teaching experience, and that new teachers with more comprehensive pedagogical training (including clinical experience) have lower attrition rates. With many states issuing waivers or providing other flexibilities for clinical experience hours to some candidates during the pandemic, policymakers may consider how to ensure early career teachers are receiving sufficient training and support.

As states consider new learning support initiatives, tutoring and summer programs could help provide teacher candidates and new teachers with the in-person teaching experience they need to be successful while also helping students recover from the interrupted learning they experienced throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. A federal bill introduced in February would provide grants to school districts and educator preparation programs to assign teacher candidates finishing their program to tutor students at “hard-to-staff schools* or high-need schools.”*

Mentorship

Effective mentorship makes a difference for early teacher retention, and following the COVID-19 pandemic policymakers may consider requiring mentoring or improving the quality of mentorship programs as an additional support for early career teachers. According to our 50-State Comparison on teacher recruitment and retention, as of 2019, 31 states require induction and/or mentoring support for new teachers.

For example, Illinois administrative code outlines Standards of Quality and Effectiveness for Beginning Teacher Induction that cover nine key areas, including mentor selection and assignment and professional development for mentor teachers. Alaska employs rigorously selected retired teachers as full-time mentors for first- and second-year teachers. Mentors use formative assessment tools to guide mentoring activities, and the program has demonstrated success in improving the retention of early career teachers.

Early Career Compensation

Higher initial compensation also shows promise to retain early career teachers. One study found that  97% of teachers with a base salary of $40,000* or higher continued teaching the following year, compared to 87% of teachers with a salary below $40,000.

This year, at least 17 governors spoke about teacher compensation in their State of the State addresses. Maine Gov. Janet Mills, for example, praised the budget for raising the minimum teacher salary in the state. While studies on the impact of salary vary, some have found that the impact of increased salary is especially pronounced for inexperienced teachers and may have a stronger impact on retention for teachers of color, which makes it a promising policy lever for state leaders looking to keep a diverse cohort of new teachers in the profession.

While support for early career teachers is particularly pressing given the unique challenges of the pandemic, student teaching experiences, quality mentorship and competitive compensation are strategies for retention that can outlast the current crisis. This Teacher Appreciation Week, Education Commission of the States thanks teachers around the nation for all they do to ensure quality education for students, and we will continue to track legislation impacting teachers through our State Education Policy Tracking tool.

 

This language is quoted from the federal bill (S. 457). The term “hard-to-staff school” means “a high-need school that has a high rate of teacher turnover or a large concentration of teachers in their first or second year of teaching”. The term ‘‘high-need school’’ means “a public elementary school or secondary school that is located in an area in which the percentage of students from families with incomes below the poverty line is 30 percent or more.”

This study was conducted in 2007-08. $40,000 in 2007 is equal to approximately $51,000 today.

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Policy Researcher at Education Commission of the States | cfrancies@ecs.org
As policy researcher, Cassidy supports the Policy Team by tracking legislation and responding to information requests on a variety of education policy issues. Prior to joining Education Commission of the States, Cassidy completed her bachelor’s degree in political science and psychology at the University of Colorado Boulder. Cassidy is passionate about providing state leaders with quality information to support them in improving education systems for all students.
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Senior Policy Analyst at Education Commission of the States | tmcdole@ecs.org

As senior policy analyst, Tiffany contributes to a variety of policy issues. She brings more than a decade of experience working to improve teaching and learning, including work at the Tennessee Department of Education and as an advisor to education leaders while at TNTP. Tiffany began her career as a fifth grade teacher and is passionate about ensuring all students have access to an excellent education.

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Assistant Director at Education Commission of the States | sglover@ecs.org
As assistant director, Sarah leads policy staff and projects to meet Education Commission of the States' mission and goals. Sarah brings more than 18 years of experience in the field of education, including as a National Board Certified teacher and in educational nonprofit leadership roles. Sarah is passionate about inspiring and supporting the growth and development of individuals, teams, organizations and communities to recognize their potential and achieve their vision.

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