Voices from the Field: The Real Story of Teacher Induction in Oakland

By Jennie Herriot-Hatfield
Teacher at Think College Now

If you’ve ever spoken to a teacher about Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment (BSTA) – the old acronym for teacher induction programming – chances are you’ve encountered some eye-rolls and a litany of complaints. Of course the reality is a bit more complicated, as our team of Teacher Policy Fellows discovered this year. According to our conversations with teachers and coaches, induction can work well for teachers, if the conditions are right, but in general, induction has plenty of room for improvement.

Over the past several months, our team of six policy fellows spoke with teachers and coaches at different stages in their careers. Some are participating in induction now; others completed it several years ago. Some teachers work at traditional public schools in Oakland; others work at charters. Some completed induction in Oakland, and others did not.

Though their backgrounds differed, the teachers and coaches with whom we spoke often made similar observations about their experiences. Here are some important themes that emerged from these conversations:

1. Teachers’ experiences with induction are uneven.

They range from impactful and positive to utterly irrelevant. One teacher, who is currently participating in induction during her first year of teaching, said she’s learned a lot from her mentor. Another teacher, who completed induction during her third year of teaching, said it was merely a formality that didn’t influence her practice at all.

2. Teachers’ views of induction seem heavily dependent on who their coach is.

Several teachers reported having a positive experience with coaches who have taught at or close to their grade level and in their school. Coaches also mentioned that they felt more effective when their experiences more closely resembled those of their teachers. Another feature teachers appreciated was having a coach who is partially or fully released so the teacher had more flexibility to ask the coach questions or have the coach conduct additional observations. Again coaches agreed – they said that they would like to have more time to visit their teachers’ classes, giving them more opportunities to observe and model.

3. Coaches are frustrated with the structure of the program too.

They want to be given sufficient support to meet their teachers’ needs. They recognize that being a good teacher doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll automatically be a great coach. They need to be taught strategies and given tools to provide meaningful support. Coaches also feel frustrated when they work hard to support their teachers, but receive the same compensation as coaches who aren’t fulfilling their obligations (i.e., meeting with their teachers very infrequently).

4. Some aspects of the program feel like busywork.

Some teachers reported that submitting write-ups or artifacts didn’t feel useful and just added more to their already overwhelming workload. Participating teachers currently in Oakland Unified reported feeling grateful that their induction program moved away from busywork this year, instead focusing on observations, feedback, and coaching conversations.

As the 2016-17 Cohort of Teacher Policy Fellows continue this project, we hope to use this information – and the information we’ve gathered through our research (blog coming soon) – to develop recommendations for improving induction in Oakland. We don’t want to just complain about induction; we hope to make it better.

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