Standard 4.2: Beginning teacher environment
It is impossible to overstate the importance of creating a positive school culture for beginning teachers. Induction supports cannot compensate for negative working environments: They cannot be used as tourniquets to stem the turnover that results from poor leadership, nor can they help a beginning teacher achieve his or her potential in an otherwise negative environment.
It is beyond the scope of this Induction Guide to fully define and describe “positive school culture”. However, there are a number of ways that administrators and program leaders can work together in order to create a positive working environment for their beginning teachers.
Making a Positive School Climate for All Teachers
This entire section describes important actions that administrators should take. However, it is perhaps most important that principals keep a positive relationship with beginning teachers and ensure that the overall school climate is positive. Research suggests that one of the most important factors in why beginning teachers stay in their current schools is their perception of how well the principal works with the teaching staff as a whole. A positive school climate works in tandem with a high-quality induction/mentoring program to increase teacher retention and ensure that all teachers have the support and motivation to improve their classroom performance.
Avoiding Giving Beginning Teachers the Most Challenging Students and Schedules
Educational reform leader, Linda Darling-Hammond is critical of the practice of casting new teachers into overwhelming situations:
Most U.S. teachers start their careers in disadvantaged schools where turnover is highest, are assigned the most educationally needy students whom no one else wants to teach, are given the most demanding teaching loads with the greatest numbers of extra duties, and receive few curriculum materials and no mentoring. After this hazing, many leave. Others learn merely to cope rather than teach well.
(Darling-Hammond, L. (1998). Teacher learning that supports student learning. Educational Leadership, 55 (5), p. 10.)
Experienced teachers, program directors, and site administrators are well aware of the time commitment the beginning teacher requires to master the art and craft of teaching. It is best if the beginning teacher is focused only on this endeavor in cooperation with the induction/mentoring program, and it is prudent of site administrators to limit the number of extra duties and assignments that would compete with the beginning teacher’s time preparing for classroom activities.
It is recommended that program directors and site administrators look at their own school culture, school populations, and instructional needs and question what is best for students. Administrators should ask themselves the following questions during the annual scheduling process:
- Which teacher would be a best fit for the students who struggle the most?
- Are class rosters balanced with a variety of learners and subgroups?
- To what extent can the site administrator/principal manage some of the scheduling variables to help the beginning teacher make the transition from student to competent teacher?
Ensuring Adequate Program/Instructional Supplies
The site administrator, whenever possible, should provide beginning teachers with smaller class sizes, fewer challenging students, and fewer preps; allow them to be placed in a single classroom all day; and limit the number of extra duties, committees, and trainings.
The site administrator should work with the beginning teacher and mentor before the start of the new school year to cross check class rosters and inventory lists so that the classroom has adequate furniture, textbooks, and supplies. If the classroom is found to be short, the site administrator/principal should walk the beginning teacher through the preferred method of addressing the shortages.
Allowing Time to Complete Program Requirements
Release time may be needed to observe the beginning teacher and/or mentoring teacher. Professional development and training may require time outside of the classroom, as well as additional time for curriculum development with local content experts such as grade level leaders and department heads. When possible, programs should align planning time for the beginning teacher and the mentor to facilitate time for program participants to work together.
Welcoming Beginning Teachers into the School and its Culture
Mentoring expectations need to be built into the hiring process, and not simply introduced after the fact. During the interviews, administrators can find out whether prospective hires are team players who will be willing participants in the induction/mentoring program. During the interviews, administrators should consider which mentor should be paired with the prospective hire. Site administrators should also assist with the beginning teacher orientation (see section 7.1).
Site administrators should strive to develop an open and collegial school culture where beginning teachers are readily welcomed. While the mentor should purposely help the beginning teacher navigate the school culture, it is up to the site administrator to foster a welcoming environment. Examples of how administrators can do this are as follows:
- Assign a “Building Buddy”: Make sure the beginning teacher has someone to go to that is located in close proximity to his or her classroom to ask those building-specific questions. This is especially helpful if the mentor is not in the same building and/or subject area.
- Ice Breakers: Plan a social gathering away from the school setting for the school staff at the start of the school year for everyone to get acquainted and caught up from the summer break.
- Hold a “Beginning Teacher” Shower: Provide a time for veteran teachers to gift the beginning teacher with items for their new classroom.
Giving Permission to Say “No”
Beginning teachers are well aware of the precarious position they are in during the first few years of their career. While beginning teachers are traditionally at the lowest level on the pay schedule and are often looking to supplement their pay with extra duties and coaching assignments, these extra duties can interfere with their teaching and/or time to themselves. Administrators should encourage beginning teachers to manage their time effectively, giving them permission to say “no” if they become overburdened.