In this space, we’ve reported multiple times on North Carolina’s struggle to recruit and retain teachers, particularly in the state’s low-performing schools. Now, a national report captures just how pervasive the problem may be, and not just in North Carolina.
Education Week is reporting the results of new federal data that show 12 percent of all teachers in the United States are in their first or second year. In North Carolina, 14 percent of teachers are beginning educators, according to the report, which examines statistics collected by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.
From Education Week:
The data, while still under review, are consistent with other recent research pointing to a “greening” trend in teaching over the past 20 years. They also raise questions both about the overall stability of the teaching force and the ability of school systems to provide adequate support to so many novices.
“It’s a really substantive and serious issue when a district or school is dealing [with an influx of new teachers],” said Susan Moore Johnson, a professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
The office for civil rights, which gathers a wide range of information from schools in order to monitor education equity, added years of teacher experience to its collection in 2010-11. It now has data on levels of teacher experience across states, districts, and even individual schools.
The most recent collection, from 2013-14, shows that in most states, more than 10 percent of the teacher corps is made up of new educators.
Experts point to various explanations for the seemingly high proportion of novices in classrooms, including school-hiring increases in a period of economic recovery, population changes, and teacher-retention challenges.
Taken with 2016 reports of massive plunges in UNC students seeking teaching degrees, the data show the challenges facing North Carolina public schools when it comes to recruiting a strong, stable teaching force.
As the Education Week report points out, it’s a costly and time-consuming issue for the nation’s public schools, given that new teachers generally require more investment in training and support.
But does it matter that the teaching force, at least in many places in the country, is increasingly “green”?
From qualitative and school-equity perspectives, the answer is almost certainly yes. Studies consistently show that new teachers face a steep learning curve and that educators generally improve dramatically over their first few years on the job. And recent research has found that teachers get even better as they gain additional years of experience.
New teachers face a variety of challenges all at once that can make it difficult to perform optimally, notes Roxanna Elden, a former teacher and an author who provides resources for beginning teachers. There are the practical challenges of the new job, such as managing grades for the first time, coordinating lessons, learning the school’s computer system and administrative processes, and developing relationships with colleagues.
Then there are the classroom-management and pedagogical challenges that, no matter how well-prepared a teacher is, crop up in the first year on the job, Elden said, recalling one of her own early misadventures as a teacher.
“I had no idea how kids were going to respond to the ‘falling star’ classroom-management system I had,” she said, referring to a positive-behavior-rewards framework. “Well, they didn’t respond at all, and then I was just in a room with 30 students.”
New teachers often report feeling unprepared for the realities of the classrooms. Indeed, the New Teacher Center, a nonprofit that provides mentoring services, characterizes a solid chunk of a typical teacher’s first year as given over to phases of “survival” and “disillusionment.”
The challenges facing new teachers can be taxing on schools and districts as well.
“With a large number of new teachers, it can be really problematic,” said Johnson, who is the director of Harvard’s Project on the Next Generation of Teachers. “They may not know the curriculum, the practices, or what’s expected of them.”
Without adequate support, she said, new teachers can often feel “lost in the shuffle” and in turn become part of a school’s turnover cycle. High annual turnover can be “organizationally costly,” both in terms of recruitment expenses and student learning, Johnson said.