Over the past few years, I’ve seen many changes in New Teacher Induction (NTI) programs as my district responds to state budget cuts. NTI programs are district supports that help early career teachers succeed with their job responsibilities at the beginning of their careers. There is a multitude of research showing that mentoring programs like NTI increase retention, improve teaching pedagogy, enhance student achievement, and contribute to teacher health and wellness during early years teaching. I am so grateful that we have NTI programs in my district because I did not have these supports when I was an early career teacher in another district. I deeply believe that NTI programs provide valuable support for teachers as growing professionals.
I have been an induction coach for early career special education teachers in my district for the past four years. Supporting early career teachers is one of my greatest passions because I believe in the profession, and I desperately want to plug the gaping hole of attrition as teachers leave the field. I’m happy to share that my district has a relatively high retention rate for early career special education teachers (Sadly, it’s often the more experienced teachers who leave.) I think that one of the reasons for high retention of early career special education teachers relates to our NTI programs. So, I am troubled when I see these programs change year to year in response to budget cuts.
I have seen so many shifts in NTI over my past four years. The greatest changes relate to the time available for NTI meetings and the compensation for teachers who participate. The year before I began coaching, NTI meetings were three hours long and there were 10 meetings each year (30 hours total training). My first year coaching, NTI meetings were cut to two hours long with 10 meetings each year (20 hours total training). During both of these school years, early career teachers were awarded Prop 301 monies as compensation for participation in NTI outside their contracted work day. Recent changes to Prop 301 monies require the funds to be tied to teacher performance and student achievement rather than teacher professional development activities. As a result, these funds can no longer support NTI programs. Therefore, two years ago our NTI program switched from after-school meetings to during-school professional development trainings on early release days. Teachers attended six trainings for two hours (12 hours total). That was one of the saddest years for me. It was incredibly challenging to develop collaborative, supportive culture within this structure. I could see that our teachers really suffered, and we collected data as coaches to help illustrate the problem. Thankfully, our district responded by switching NTI programs back to after-school meetings this past year. Teachers were asked to attend these eight meetings, each for 1.5 hours (12 hours total) as part of their professional responsibilities since no money could be provided.
You probably noticed the trend above—hours of time slipping away each year and the elimination of teacher compensation. It’s a big price to pay for state budget cuts and changes to educational policy. Each year, we struggle as coaches to pack the content we need to deliver into less and less time. We have been very creative these last few years–modifying content to cover the most important material and sadly eliminating less important (though very helpful!) content that might have improved teacher success. There just hasn’t been enough time.
This last year, I started a NTI special education teacher wiki site where I added resources that we didn’t have time to cover during our sessions. It was a valuable solution so that we could continue to devote time to team building and mental wellness that we have tried eliminating (with negative results) in the past when training time decreased. Last year, we had one of our best years ever. I felt like our teachers were nurtured, built supportive relationships with others, and developed excellent leadership qualities. Despite all the time cuts, I thought we had finally figured out a way to make it work within the time allotted. And then I found out…our time has been cut again for next year.
This coming school year, the NTI program will only be eight sessions of one hour each (8 hours total). If you remember, this program was once 30 hours of packed content. Now, we have only 8 hours for the very important task of supporting early career special education teachers with their complex job responsibilities. I was a little bit crushed when I heard the news. I just don’t see how the task can be done, honestly. I know that we will have to eliminate very important content this coming year—and I know that teachers will suffer for it. Worst of all, I fear that team-building is one of the things that will have to go. There really just isn’t time anymore.
In addition to the one-hour meetings, teachers will also complete online modules that have been developed by an outside, non-profit agency. Induction coaches watched one of the modules during a recent training, and it made me want to gouge my eyes out in boredom. In my opinion, there’s nothing that can make online learning engaging after a long day of teaching. Are we really asking teachers to sacrifice their time together getting real-life training in place of online modules? I think that this poses a huge risk to morale. Other induction coaches had more positive opinions about the online modules, such as mentioning the benefits of standardized content. I suppose that this could be a benefit to consider—but when actual time together is eliminated, I don’t see how the benefits outweigh the cost.
As I see NTI programs decreasing each year, I encourage experienced teachers in the field to reach out to early career teachers on your campuses. I fear that new teacher supports may be the next casualty on the long list of school budget changes. Now, we must all work together to provide the supports these teachers need to develop efficacy and success for long, long teaching careers.