Be proactive to retain teachers
Candace Chellew-Hodge
July 11, 2018

The life of a new teacher can be impossibly busy and often invigorating, but may also feel demoralizing and disempowering, says Michigan English teacher and author Matthew Johnson.

"Any new job is hard, but new teachers are in one of those rare professions where you have all of the hard knocks in front of a studio audience of people, like an athlete or actors," said Johnson during a recent interview on Education Talk Radio. "For new teachers, every mistake you make you see kids looking at you that have noticed that mistake."

Johnson, who was recently selected for a SmartBrief Editor's Choice Content Award for an Edutopia blog addressing the struggles of new teachers, says that experience can cause teachers to feel isolated and can lead them to either give up the profession altogether or shy away from seeking the help they need from administrators.

To improve teacher retention and job satisfaction, Johnson says it's important for department leaders and principals to be proactive and "reach out to those new teachers to make sure that they don't create a little island in their classroom where they are isolated and alone."

New teacher induction programs, Johnson notes, can be an effective tool to retain teachers when done correctly. "The real secret is not any one induction program," he notes, "it's that they have human contact with people who know what they're going through as new teachers and that they have contact with administrators and people who can help lead them along the way and give them the right questions to ask and give them some answers before they even know they need these things."

When Johnson entered the profession 11 years ago, he says teacher preparation programs mainly focused on developing a teaching philosophy and included very little instruction on day-to-day activities such as lesson planning or dealing with parents and evaluations. While he believes programs have improved over the years, administrators still play a key role in mentoring teachers and encouraging them in their practice.

"If you have a principal that stops in and just says, 'Hey, I heard you did this thing. That's cool. Would you mind leading 30 minutes in the staff meeting to do some professional development because you sound like you've got something there?' That little human touch, it's amazing how often that can be the thing that nudges a teacher to either say, 'I'm out of here' or feel like this is worth it," he asserts.

How does Johnson keep his own teaching approach fresh? By inviting student teachers from the University of Michigan to intern in his classroom.

"If you haven't been a new teacher for a while, and especially if you haven't been in the classroom in a long time, it can be easy to drift away from knowing what really matters to a new teacher on the ground. [Having a student teacher helps me] keep a pulse on what matters."

Candace Chellew-Hodge is a freelance writer and contributing editor in SmartBrief's education department.

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