Today, The New Teacher Project (TNTP) released a report, Leap Year: Assessing and Supporting First-Year Teachers, that examines the unique characteristics of a teacher’s initial year in the classroom. An interesting topic for sure; ask any educator about his or her first year of teaching, and chances are you’ll hear at least one of the following descriptors: hectic, crazy, confusing, challenging, tough, hard, exhausting. So what is the best way to support these individuals and assess their progress? The study attempts to address this question by examining the performance of over 1,000 new teachers in hard-to-staff subjects located in 15 regions around the country. Measures used included classroom observations, principal ratings, student surveys, and student growth data.
Key findings from the study include:
1. First-year teachers’ performance levels vary, as do their rates of improvement: Based on the level of expectations set for the 2011-2012 school year, 5 percent of teachers were removed from the program, 12 percent were put on an improvement plan and given another year, and 83 percent were granted certification.
2. A teacher’s performance in his/her first year appears to predict future performance: Teachers who outperformed their peers based on initial observation scores were more likely to demonstrate relatively higher performance by the end of the year.
3. Multiple measures can complement each other to provide a portrait of a teacher’s potential: Observation results, student surveys, principal ratings, and value-added data were positively correlated.
4. Teachers who demonstrate purposefulness, responsiveness, and a focus on student understanding improve more quickly: For example, teachers earning a score of 4 or 5 on the observation rubric item, “Facilitates organized, student-centered, objective-driven lessons” improved at a faster rate than did their peers who earned a 3.
The last finding in particular provides useful information in determining the types of support that offer the greatest benefit to first-year teachers. It suggests that rather than expect perfection in every aspect of teaching in one’s first year, perhaps it makes sense to hone in on those foundational skills and characteristics that are the most likely to help new teachers develop quickly in the short term, and position them for success later on. With this in mind, TNTP identifies four key “launch” skills for teachers to focus on in the first year: delivering academic content clearly, maintaining high academic standards, setting high behavioral expectations, and maximizing instructional time.
As HR professionals, we must remember that highly effective and engaged individuals desire feedback and the opportunity to grow. A quote in the report from one teacher illustrates this perfectly: “Please, tell me how I am doing! I want to know what I’m doing and how I can do better. I’m teaching kids and I’m evaluating them and telling them how they can be better, so why not me?”
We must also remember that when individuals are spread too thin, it is hard for them to focus and improve on any one individual area. Maybe this idea can be a useful area of reflection for your school or district, or its educators: What are the most important skills to master first, and what are the most effective strategies for doing so?
Naima Khandaker, Battelle for Kids Human Capital Specialist, contributed to this post. Naima is a former teacher and current education policy nerd who believes that one day soon, education will be great for all kids.
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