New teachers and principals are often told that the first year is “trial by fire” or “sink or swim.” Too many educators leave the profession, and others are far less effective in those early years than they could be. Experienced teachers, on the other hand, often lack career advancement opportunities that allow them to take on additional responsibilities to support the success of their school without leaving the classroom. And, principals too often step into the leadership role with little preparation for managing dozens of educators and systemically leading instruction.
Accepting this “pipeline” as the status quo, as we have come dangerously close to doing, does a disservice to both educators and their students. This is doubly frustrating because we know how to solve these challenges.
We must focus more of our energy on effectively preparing teachers and school leaders at every step in their career. As a former college dean, I can tell you changing behavior in higher education is hard – but I can also tell you it is possible. The next reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) has the power to shape how we prepare teachers and leaders in two meaningful ways.
For initial preparation, HEA should promote programs that provide educators with on-the-job experience before day one. This includes expanding opportunities for every teacher and every principal to experience high-quality residency and induction by prioritizing these approaches in Teacher Quality Partnership (TQP) grants. Our data at the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, as well as data from the National Center for Teacher Residencies, show that graduates of high-quality teacher residency programs are more effective in increasing student achievement and stay with their schools at higher rates. Then, when districts provide first-year teachers and leaders with meaningful job-embedded coaching and feedback as induction, those educators excel. Rather than using that first year to figure out the job, educators step in as effective instructors and school leaders. All of this in turn provides much-needed continuity for students to have access to high-quality teachers year after year, and it allows schools to invest their resources into educators who stay instead of hiring new ones.
Further, including states as partners in the TQP program would ensure residency programs are aligned with state teacher preparation priorities and support comprehensive statewide improvements. States will always be the best conduit for systemic improvements in teacher quality and new educator support, whether it is through improving induction, strengthening licensure, or shifting the focus in higher education to student outcomes. Having states in TQP will only maximize the federal investment.
Second, the next HEA should invest in opportunities that allow teachers to grow as leaders. One option could be allowing TQP funds to support teacher leader development programs. Our data at NIET shows that teacher leaders can be critical drivers of student achievement growth, and data from TNTP has shown that teacher leadership opportunities could double the percentage of teachers who would choose to work in a low-income school. Investing in teacher leader development programs would also encourage teacher preparation to leverage evidence-based practices for effectively preparing teacher leaders for success.
Even better: there are pioneering colleges of education and district partners who have put these approaches into practice. Teacher candidates at NIET’s partner institutions, from Arizona State University and Texas Tech to Southeastern Louisiana University and Marian College in Indianapolis, have been learning on the job through residency programs. On day one, these new teachers know the language of strong teaching and learning, they have had practice applying it, and they understand the value of high-quality feedback. As a result, as Texas Tech’s site coordinator said, “Our teacher candidates come out more like a second-year teacher than a first-year teacher.” Partner districts then capitalize on those well-prepared educators through strong induction, ultimately elevating the most effective educators into teacher leader positions to coach and mentor their peers. The result is that student performance soars and teachers stay and thrive in the profession.
Let me add one final request: While the current version of HEA authorizes the TQP program at $300 million annually, the program has never received more than $50 million in annual funding. Clearly, there is much more congressional leaders can do to invest in the future of the teacher workforce.
Teachers deserve to be ready on day one and have a clear path forward to advance in their career every day after. HEA can recognize the full continuum of teacher and leader preparation and development by encouraging teacher prep to invest in high-quality residency and induction as well as teacher leader development. If we want the best education for our students, we have to provide the best preparation for our educators.