Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence

The new teacher next door – what support do new teachers need to grow and thrive?

Kentucky’s public schools welcome around 2,500 brand new teachers each year. What kind of support do these new teachers need? I recently spoke with Amelia Brown and Dana Lee Thomas to get their expert thoughts.

Amelia is Professional Learning Coach at the Northern Kentucky Cooperative for Educational Services (NKCES), and Dana is an ELA instructional coach for grades 3-5 in Marion County. As Kentucky Hope Street Group Teaching Fellows, Amelia and Dana created the KY SENT (Kentucky Supporting and Elevating New Teachers) website and @KY_SENT twitter feed.

First, however, some policy background:

  • Between 1986 and 2018, first-year teachers (aka “interns”) completed the Kentucky Teacher Internship Program (KTIP), a structured induction process led by a school-based resource teacher, the principal, and a university-based teacher educator. Interns received their full teaching certificate after successfully completing the KTIP year.
  • Over the years, the Kentucky General Assembly provided between $3 to $5 million in annual funding for KTIP – mostly allocated to stipends for resource teachers.
  • During the 2018 budget session, however, the General Assembly removed funding for KTIP and the state suspended the program. Today, districts manage and fund new teacher induction, and new teachers can obtain their full teaching certificate as soon as they complete their teacher preparation program.
  • Earlier this month, the Kentucky Board of Education discussed a draft 2020-2022 budget request that includes $1.5 million in annual funding for new teacher induction.

Why and how did you get your start in teaching, and then supporting other teachers?

Dana: I just completed my 22nd year of teaching, and have been an instructional coach for the last 5 years. During my beginning years as a teacher, I was very fortunate to have the support of many great colleagues. As an instructional coach, I share resources and strategies to help both teachers and students. I’m very passionate about instruction and just want to help grow other teachers. When we are our best, students benefit.  Amelia: It was never a question for me about what I was going to do. As early as 3rd grade, I remember wanting to be a teacher. I started my elementary education program two weeks after high school graduation. During my internship year, I had a great mentor teacher. Her willingness to devote so much time and energy on my behalf – it was not lost on me. In the years that followed, I would take on practicum students and student teachers. I had a true passion for it. Eventually, my call for more of a leadership role came from that passion to support teachers and to elevate them.

What has most helped you improve your teaching practice over time, and what do Kentucky’s new teachers most need to be successful with students, families, and communities?

Dana: Collaboration, communication, and teacher efficacy are essential in the beginning years of teaching. Teachers need a professional learning network of other teachers for support and resources.  Some of a teacher’s best professional learning, is the teacher next door, or down the hallway.

Why did you create KY SENT, and what does it provide for new teachers?

Amelia: The idea came about when the state internship program lost funding. That had provided a built-in mentor for new teachers. Teacher attrition was also starting to show real consequences – both in funding and student achievement.  In the absence of this program, our goal with  KY SENT was to create a space with curated resources on all kinds of different topics that we feel new teachers will be seeking out. It’s also professional learning network for new teachers. We spark discussions with       twitter chats and campaigns to elevate new teachers. We also offer a Q&A through the website for any questions that new teachers are afraid to ask or aren’t getting the answer to.  However, the concerns of new teachers  are often school-specific. We do realize that quality mentorship comes from the teacher down the hall. We have many examples of districts that are rising to that challenge even in the absence of a formal program.

Dana: Due to the lack of funding for KTIP, we knew that teachers needed some kind of support in the beginning of their careers. In addition to support, we also want to elevate teachers. Every teacher should know that they make a difference in a child’s life each day. When teachers feel good about the teaching profession, students reap the rewards.

One way that KY SENT elevates new teachers is with our KY SENT Sparkler initiative. Teachers can nominate a new teacher to showcase and celebrate their work during the first few years of teachers. The “sparklers” are featured on our website and highlighted on our Twitter feed.

What is your definition of success for KY SENT? How will you know if you’ve achieved it?

Dana: For me, it is knowing that new teachers feel that support, elevation, and satisfaction with the profession.  

Why should young Kentuckians, or not-so young Kentuckians interested in a career change, consider teaching?

Dana: Teaching is one of the most rewarding careers that there is. We’re producing our future leaders. Any impact we can have on a child’s life makes a difference.   We make a difference every single day that we are with kids.

Amelia: I do think that life experience enhances teacher quality. Someone coming into teaching with experience outside of education could act as an invaluable connection to the current workforce. That could provide a unique perspective on 21st century innovation and bring some rockstar potential.

I’m grateful to Dana and Amelia for their statewide leadership to support and elevate Kentucky’s newest teachers, and for sharing their expertise and experience as we ask – how can we ensure that all teachers have what they need to learn and grow – making an ever-increasing positive impact on students, families, and communities – at every stage of their careers?