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August 17, 2022
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Let’s Put Time on New Teachers' Side

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While we can’t gift teachers more than 24 hours in a day, schools can reconfigure how they use time to give novices more support. 

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New Teachers: Let’s Put Time on Their Side
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Over the last decade, I’ve experienced firsthand the difficulties of recruiting and retaining quality teachers. In grappling with this problem, I've come to see that one of the best ways to bring less stress and more joy to a teacher’s first year is to be more innovative and intentional in scheduling.
As a teacher and career Army spouse, I moved across continents and oceans every few years until I found myself teaching 3rd grade in a Northern Virginia school system that promoted continuous improvement in education. After settling into that role, I took a leave of absence from teaching to enter a PhD program, and I worked in several roles related to preservice teachers: I supervised student teaching interns, piloted technology integration courses, and led Teach for America and international student cohorts.  
But I wanted to get back to K-12 public schools. After a few years, I returned to a central office role in which I designed courses for and coached novice teachers while also training teacher-mentors to be paired with incoming teachers. I saw certain patterns in the teacher workforce, at least locally: The number of new hires in our school system was annually increasing (from 275-300 new hires in 2011 to 300-400 or more in 2019). Meanwhile, those in our experienced mentor pool, mostly older baby boomers, were resigning in growing numbers. Simultaneously, in a trend researchers have noted, fewer college students were choosing the education path, and those who remained tended to leave teaching within the first five years (Perryman & Calvert, 2019). 
The emotional stress and demands associated with the COVID-19 pandemic have only compounded these trends. Legions of teachers have left the classroom. The past two years have spotlighted both old and new challenges within the world of teaching and education, and we now find ourselves in a somber predicament. School faculties are now made up of more "newish" teachers than experienced teachers, and we know teachers who’ve taught for less than five years are still learning how to design lessons, supervise students, and make a positive impact on student learning. 

Is the Problem in the Solution?

Over the years, I’ve interacted with thousands of pre-service and in-service teachers, novice educators, mentors-in-training, and practicing mentors. I recognize a simple premium we could award newbies to guide them toward success, reduce stress and burnout, and support their learning: Time. We can reconfigure the daily school schedule to provide more support and positive experiences for these teachers.    
In a sense, one key aspect of new teachers’ challenges—a desire for more time—is also the solution. Both prior to and since the pandemic’s outbreak, many new educators have expressed a need for more time to do their work—and to relax. Who wouldn’t want an extra hour to prepare for a classroom observation or plan a lesson? Or time to read another story at bedtime—or just a few extra moments to watch a sunset or play with a puppy? 
So, if time is the problem, how can it also be the solution? Unless I rub a genie’s lamp and am granted three wishes, new teachers can’t actually have more time in a day. But maybe they can spend the time they do have in different ways. If leaders who work with new teachers can reconsider how novices spend their time at school and make changes to maximize new teachers’ learning, they can help ease their adjustment and increase their feeling of effectiveness and joy. 

Provide More Set-Up Time at the Start of the Year 

Whenever I meet a new teacher, I’m asked the same anticipatory question: “When can I get into my classroom?” Newly hired educators’ contracts often begin several days before contracts of returning professionals so the new teachers can set up their classrooms and get acclimated. However, these few days are often spent establishing email accounts, setting up technology, attending orientation, and taking tours of the building.  
I believe we should provide two weeks for incoming teachers to set up their classrooms and adjust to their new school-home. During this time, mentors and other supportive professionals should be available to assist while teachers lay the physical foundation of their classroom during the first week, then participate in orientation and induction sessions during the second week. With the confidence of having arranged the classroom, fulfilled their immediate needs, and met informally with peers, neophytes will be ready to meet the rest of the staff and dive into the curriculum.   
A note of caution about providing PD that takes new teachers out of the class: During the weeks before school began, one district I worked for provided support sessions to guide elementary educators through planning thought-provoking lessons. These mandatory classes continued throughout the novice’s first year, with each session highlighting one curricular area. All first-year elementary teachers were required to attend these mandatory sessions during the school day and to implement what they learned in their classrooms.
I know these sessions were research-based and provided excellent guidance and modeling; however, the timing of them was ineffective. New teachers weren’t ready to benefit from them because their focus was on first-year survival. Allowing teachers to move through their inaugural year without needlessly pulling them from the classroom helps them maintain focus and clarity during their instructional time. They’ll be more ready for substantial PD in their second or third year when, as Olena Zhukova (2018) notes, teachers’ focus of concern
gradually shifts from part to the whole, from short-term thinking to long-term thinking, from linear to systems thinking, from internal concerns of self to external concerns for student learning. After passing this initial stage, the teachers’ concerns become more task-and later impact-oriented, and teachers become highly likely to be open to professional development, innovative ideas, and ready for change (p. 112).
Regardless of what type of excellent professional learning you offer, conserve novice’s time in their classrooms so they can build the foundation of their teaching careers one lesson at a time.  

I believe we should provide two weeks for incoming teachers to set up their classrooms and adjust to their new school-home.

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Structure More Time with Mentors 

Mentors and protégés can begin collaborating right from the start. Mentors should be specially trained to work with peer novices and be familiar with topics and struggles that first-year teachers may encounter. When newbies enter the school prior to returning staff members, mentors should accompany them to troubleshoot digital-setup issues and other challenges and to begin building their professional relationship. Expectations may need to be adjusted: Mentors might be ready to launch into planning and discussing school rules right from the start, but incoming teachers will need time to adjust to their physical surroundings while making sense of their new professional environment. 
Schools often match teacher-mentors with incoming educators but provide little time for collaboration. Mentor-mentee pairs often can only meet before or after school, or if possible, during lunch breaks. Leaders need to get creative with the school schedule, perhaps by hiring substitutes or having teachers cover for each other, to provide school day opportunities for the pair to meet. This raises the status of mentoring and highlights its importance. Interactions will be more productive when participants are alert and focused rather than coming in for pre-dawn or early evening sessions. And although it is important to keep novices in their classrooms as much as possible, an interruption for mentoring is time well spent.  
If your school system does not provide mentors for novices, you should consider doing so. Mentors can be trained to help novices beyond first-year survival and into professional growth. Also, mentors do more than promote professional skills; they act as emotional supports too. Making time to build a mentor training program, and then giving time during the school day for mentor pairs to meet, perhaps monthly or every six weeks, will reduce teacher stress and increase everyone’s learning. It will demonstrate to newbies how important their growth is, and that their school values teacher learning even in their inaugural year. 

In Evaluations, Give Novices Time to Grow 

Protecting classroom time and carving out time for mentors and mentees to work together can underscore a school district’s focus on new teacher development. Another way to honor time for incoming teachers to develop is to reconsider how we evaluate them. With the understanding that novice professionals move through phases or patterns as they become increasingly effective, it makes sense to review their work differently than that of veteran teachers.  
Although they may have earned a degree in education, incoming teachers are at the start of their professional journey. They will move from theory to classroom application, gaining a deeper understanding of their craft and themselves along the way. Therefore, teachers in their first and second years might benefit from a review of their skills and potential, rather than being held to the same standard as veteran teachers. Research shows what many of us would intuit: Early-career teachers benefit from validation, which builds their confidence (Brunetti & Marston, 2018). Over time, novices move beyond immediate survival to longer-term learning and professionalism. When educators stay with the profession and are provided time to evolve, they can become competent, impactful teachers—who may, in turn, mentor future incoming professionals.  
We know it takes time for teachers to develop into proficient professionals who help students learn. Evaluation systems should take note of that. When we evaluate newbies with the same tool we use for experienced teachers, we aren’t recognizing this organic process. Perhaps the field could create a system of evaluation or a process that recognizes job-based growth and learning for early-career teachers—a good way to honor the time it takes for them to develop.  

Offer Networking Time 

In addition to being paired with a trained teacher-mentor for the first professional year, novice educators can reap benefits from being in a school-based learning community. If staff numbers are low, several schools can combine forces to create their own regional support system. I’ve seen three local schools work together in this way, lightening the load for everyone and multiplying ideas and friendships. Newbies in their first three professional years should engage in the group along with their mentors. It might be good to also have any staff participate who’ve recently changed grade levels or transferred into the school, or who simply have an interest in joining.   
It’s best if this supportive community is led by an experienced mentor who facilitates learning and discussions. Timely topics—such as cultivating a positive classroom culture and designing lesson plans—should have a monthly focus. Smaller topics can be included in an online learning management system such as Canvas or Microsoft’s OneNote notebook. It’s very helpful to have a location where educators can go to find videos, lesson ideas, slideshow presentations, and already previewed handouts. 
Although having a networking group meet and interact requires teachers’ time, offering access to an accepting, consistent group helps save time by reviewing and introducing topics in a safe space where all questions are encouraged and never laughed at. Teachers can implement what they learn each month and return with an artifact, video, or reflection about how to improve on a strategy or lesson. Such a group can help raise a new teacher’s efficacy, which is bound to have a positive impact on students. Sessions can be followed up with online discussions of how novices are implementing the new PD topics, with space for questions; this keeps learning and discussion at the convenience of the novice. 

Wrapping It All Up

It’s possible that these changes could address the problem of college students shying away from the profession. If it becomes commonly known that new educators are strongly supported and provided time to learn and grow, reluctant undergraduates might turn toward teaching. When first-year teachers understand they will be provided time to learn and grow and chances during the day to meet with mentors, they’ll understand the importance of their inaugural year and be more likely to experience it in a positive way. As colleagues review with novices their growth and areas of improvement, efficacy will build and more satisfied novices will result. 
These reconfigured ways of using time may seem minor, but they can positively impact teachers and the profession right from the start. I’ve observed and worked with many teachers over the years. This is what they want. 
References

Brunetti, G.J. & Marston S.H. (2018). A trajectory of teacher development in early and mid-career. Teachers and teaching (24) 1-19.  

Perryman, J. & Calvert, G. (2019). What motivates people to teach, and why do they leave? Accountability, performativity and teacher retention. British Journal of Education Studies 3-23.  

Zhukova, O. (2018). Novice teachers’ concerns, early professional experiences and development: Implications for theory and practice. Discourse and Communication for Sustainable Education (9)1 100-114. 

Amie Weinberg founded Blank Slate Education to help teachers help students learn. As a mentor program coordinator for Prince William County Public Schoolsin Virginia, she has coached hundreds of teacher-mentors and novice educators. 

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