Prioritizing New Teacher Support

By Kyle Svingen

You’re lying on a gurney, looking up at your doctor. She looks nervous and tells you, “I’m so excited. This is my first day as a surgeon. I can’t believe they’re letting me do an open-heart surgery by myself on my very first day.”

Now, you’re about to fly on a commercial airliner. As you board the plane, the pilot shakes your hand. You notice that his palms are sweaty. He says, “I just graduated from flight school last week, but we flew much smaller planes there. I can’t wait to try this Boeing-747.”

Finally, you are a parent dropping off your child for the first day of school. His third grade teacher nervously confesses, “I just got my credential a few weeks ago. I student taught last spring, but I’ve never managed a classroom by myself before. I hope I can handle 25 first graders.”

The first two are ridiculous. Doctors are not expected to do the full range of tasks on their first day after medical school. They are paired with experienced physicians who mentor them for years. Gradually, they assume more and more responsibility until they are ready to take on all the tasks that an experienced doctor performs. And nobody would trust a pilot who had no experience flying full commercial airplanes!

However, the third scenario occurs in hundreds of classrooms across Oakland every year. Teachers have opportunities to practice during their credentialing programs, but few experience the “real thing” before their first day. Because of this, teachers, like doctors or pilots, need significant supports in their first years on the job. Of course, the impact of an inexperienced teacher is less immediately disastrous than the impact of an under-prepared surgeon. However, many Oakland school children spend year after year in the classrooms of new teachers. This can have lifelong impacts on our students.

Oakland students need teachers who are well supported. The next time you’re in a room with other educators, tell them, “I think we need to support new teachers.” Everybody in the room will agree with you. However, many first year teachers feel completely unsupported. How is this possible? Is this verbal commitment to new teacher supports little more than lip service?

“If we want our teachers to be as great as our surgeons and our pilots, we need to prioritize new teacher support.”

If education leaders are truly committed to supporting new teachers, their commitments should be reflected in their budgets. Our leaders need to be thoughtful about funding new teacher support. Without strategy or skill our efforts to provide adequate, sustainable support will not work.. However, it’s hard to provide real support without prioritizing it financially.

We turned to Local Control and Accountability Plans (LCAPs). Each charter school must complete an LCAP each year. Similarly, OUSD creates one LCAP for all the schools in the district. These LCAPs share the organization’s budget and academic goals for the year.

When we were able to find LCAPs, our team went through each LCAP line-by-line to determine the funds allocated toward new teacher support each year. We learned that there is a significant range of support. Some charter schools budgeted tens of thousands of dollars to support new teachers. This money was used to provide coaching, professional development, and mentor teachers. However, most charter schools did not mention specific supports for new teachers.

OUSD’s LCAP was more comprehensive. The district budgeted about $1 million for new teacher support. The vast majority of that money goes to TIPO (formerly known as BTSA) coaches. However, $1 million out of $380 million budget is a relatively small commitment to new teachers. To put this into perspective: 21% of OUSD teachers are in their first or second year, but only 0.2% of the budget is used to support their specific needs.

At this point, we must add an important caveat. These numbers and figures don’t reflect the informal support that new teachers receive. The kind veteran across the hall sharing curriculum doesn’t show up in the budget. There’s no record of the second-year teacher patting the first-year on the back and saying, I’ve been there…” Furthermore, it does not include funds that OUSD principals allocate for supporting new teachers at the site level. For example, some schools provide coaching to all teachers, and these coaches may spend more time with new teachers than with experienced teachers. However, this is not an institutionalized practice. Some OUSD principals probably devote significant funds toward supporting new teachers. Other schools, however, offer practically zero site-based formal support.

In summary, many charter schools didn’t mention new teacher supports in their LCAP budgets. OUSD allocated just 0.2% of its budget to supporting new teachers. We don’t think this qualifies as “putting your money where your mouth is.” If we want our teachers to be as great as our surgeons and our pilots, we need to prioritize new teacher support.

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