“It’s not more complicated than that. If you have the principal, you have the teacher, and you have the resources you need in each classroom, you are constitutionally compliant and children will learn.”
As I sat through the rest of the hearing, I began to wonder whether I had received a sound, basic education growing up.
And, with the focus on high quality teachers, I inevitably began thinking about whether I was providing a sound, basic education to my students now.
As experts testified during the hearing, these statistics about the teacher pipeline and the retention of our educators caught my attention:
Cross examination of state witness Dr. Lynne Johnson
11,000 teachers are needed each year to satisfy demand
Testimony of plaintiff witness Dr. Alisa Chapman
National modal number (most frequent) years of teaching experience
20 years ago: 15 years
Today: 1 year
State of North Carolina (most frequent) years of teaching experience
20 years ago : 15 years
Today: 1.5 years
6 percent of teachers are in their first year of experience (highest concentration in state)
First year teachers regardless of preparation are least effective
30 percent of teachers are in years 10-20 years of experience
Teacher with 10-20 years experience are most effective
Novice teacher concentration is disproportionately in the lower performing schools
Johnson admitted that the need for 11,000 teachers is not being met by current programs, portals, or plans.
Chapman referred to the above statistics as proof that the teaching profession is becoming a “greening workforce.”
First, how can we construct a pipeline that meets the need of 11,000 teachers every year?
Second, how can we fortify the walls of the profession to retain our teachers?
In the Plantiffs’ response to the purported “definite plan of action” for Leandro compliance from the State of North Carolina, filed July 17, 2015, the plaintiffs state:
“enrollment in teacher education programs within the University of North Carolina system plummeted 27.6% from 2010 to 2014”
“the State… eliminated the Teacher Cadet Program (which attracted top students into the teaching profession), [and] eliminated funding for teacher mentoring…”
As a novice teacher, just beginning my second year of teaching, there is no doubt that participating in the Teacher Cadet program is why I entered the profession, and why I feel confident in my abilities as a high school English teacher.
My Teacher Cadet program, led by Ms. Lisa Bell of White Oak High School, immersed me in the classroom as a senior in high school during the 2009-10 school year. This experience totaled 12 weeks in a 1st grade classroom, six weeks in an 8th grade classroom, totaling 18 weeks. This is more than your average student teaching experience required for licensure, which lasts approximately only 10 weeks.
In the 1st grade classroom, I had my first experiences in lesson planning, differentiated learning, literacy instruction, and the emotional pains of teaching. Every single lesson taught was formatted by the six point lesson plan provided by the State curriculum alongside the Standard Course of Study, checked by my Teacher Cadet coordinator, double checked by my cooperating teacher, then revised before I even entered to teach each day. The rigor of this process created a strong understanding of objectives, lesson formatting, and the work required to be prepared before I stand in front of my students. Due to this early practice, my first year of teaching was much more productive due to the speed and ease I could operate and plan my lessons.
The cooperating teacher I worked with in the 1st grade classroom walked me through a structured plan of word study that had students split among differentiated groups. The students were grouped by level of achievement and met daily with me one on one to receive direct instruction based on their individual needs, then had independent practice to reinforce learning. The groups were set up to be fluid so that once a student had reached a higher level of achievement and growth they could move up to the next grouping of students — practices I continue today in my own teaching.
Literacy instruction on the university level is traditionally left to elementary education students. However, the reality is most of our students in high school need reinforcement of literacy instruction. Already comfortable with literacy strategy on the elementary level, I was able to adapt those methods to meet the needs of my high school freshman in my first year of teaching.
As most teachers can attest, teaching requires emotional endurance. Meeting my 1st grade students in 2009, they got up one by one and introduced themselves. I noticed early on a young boy with grity nails, dirty skin, brittle hair, broken braids, in an oversized, stained white shirt. He got up to introduce himself with a huge smile. “Hi, my name is Sabrina!” I was jilted by the fact that I had passed judgment on this young girl, misjudged her gender by her appearance, and felt an immediate guilt. Judging students before you get to know your student is a dangerous game. I later learned of her stomach pains prior to lunches as a result of hunger and poor nutrition from the night before. These pains would only be subdued by a plastic baggie containing watery, chopped up hotdogs. Teachers need emotional endurance to ensure all students — including those that are hungry and living in poverty — have access to their right to a sound, basic education. For me, the conditioning began when I was 17 years old.
Once I entered the pipeline and began my first year of teaching, my reinforcement came in the form of mentoring. However, with no state funding, mentors volunteer without additional pay, no additional prep time, and on top of full-time teaching.
I am fortunate to have Mrs. Rita Achenbach, 40 years of experience, as my teaching mentor. She was vital in my first days on the job, helping me sort out the dense Advanced Placement curriculum, the additional paperwork beginning teachers must complete, and the complex channels of a school’s environment. She was in my classroom almost every day at the beginning of the year to take notes on my practices and provide feedback on changes necessary to meet the needs of individual students and individual classes. She taught me how to navigate the complicated channels of communication with parents, students, and staff members. She held me to high ethical and academic standards. She was there as a resource when I didn’t understand Janie’s desire for love in Their Eyes Were Watching God, or the psyche of Hester Prynne and her quest for truth in Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Mrs. Achenbach provided this assistance on top of a full load of six courses with more than 150 students. Her commitment was only possible through her mastery of the teaching profession that 40 years of experience creates.
Mentors are touchstones for novice teachers.
Dr. Bill Harrison said, “Developing adults is just as important as developing students.”
When the State returns to court, I urge them to include in their plan a way to construct a pipeline for teachers beginning with high school students that are interested in teaching, and reinforcing the pipeline with mentoring at the licensed level to meet the needs of a greening work force.