Jane Ching Fung
What is the impact of ongoing collaboration in a teacher network on new teachers’ understanding and use of state standards in classroom practice?
Every year, California hires thousands of brand new non-credentialed teachers to fill its teaching positions. Many of the newly hired teachers enter the classroom with little or no training in the field of education. Of the new teachers who enter the profession each year, about 30% leave the profession in the first few years if not given support. Some parts of California are reporting new teacher attrition rates as high as 50% within the first five years. New teachers that have continuous support are less likely to leave the profession. My concern, as a mentor and former non-credentialed teacher, is that many of these new educators are not receiving adequate support or being provided with meaningful professional development opportunities to help them become effective and permanent members of our profession.
This year, our school district’s focus is on the new California English Language Arts Content Standards, with an emphasis on teaching reading. Teachers are expected to create, implement, and assess standards based lessons. This is not an easy task for an experienced and trained educator, so one can imagine how difficult it would be for a new teacher.
I teach in an urban primary school (K-2) located near downtown Los Angeles. Currently, over 55% of the teachers at my school are non-credentialed and have taught for less than three years. Most of the new teachers at my school have not taken a formal reading methods class prior to entering the classroom. We need to find a way to train these new teachers, so they could provide quality language arts instruction. Although these new educators are eager to learn and develop their craft, there are few opportunities in our district and during the school day to meet and collaborate on an ongoing basis.
Five years ago, a group of new teachers and I created The Early Literacy Club (ELC), a new teacher network, at our school site. Initially the goals of the ELC were to provide much needed instructional and emotional support during the induction period for the overwhelmed beginning teacher. With student achievement in state Language Arts standards as a central focus in our state and district this year, I wanted to research the impact ongoing collaboration in a teacher network has on new teachers’ understanding and use of state standards in classroom practice.
- Two questionnaires from each member of the network. (fall and spring)
- Classroom observations made by members throughout the year.
- Teacher reflections on: state standards and their understanding, the collaborative process, and classroom instruction.
- Documents created by the network: Language Arts Standards Time Line and Standards Resource Guide.
All the new teachers reported that the network was instrumental in helping improve and refine their classroom practice. They also expressed a feeling of accomplishment when working with peers collaboratively on standards articulation, and reflected that the network not only provided them with professional development, but emotional support as well. Additional findings include:
As a result of network participation, new teachers have:
- demonstrated an improvement in their professional practices
- acquired a deeper understanding of state standards and subject matter knowledge
- implemented standards based instruction in their own classrooms
- gained confidence in their own teaching
- participated in creating teaching resources
- access to a readily available support system and opportunities to collaborate regularly
- sought further professional development in addition to the network
- elected to take on leadership roles both at school and in the profession
- reported greater job satisfaction
Although the network was made available to all new teachers at my school, two of them chose not to participate. Both of the new teachers have left the classroom, I believe they are both currently subbing in the district. Teacher networks are a valuable tool in training and supporting new teachers at my school, but to remain effective they need to be voluntary.
My study shows the importance of ongoing support and collaboration in the training of new teachers. We know that new teachers that are support and trained effectively are less likely to leave the profession. Networks are one way to help new teachers improve their teaching practices in a comfortable, risk free environment. I would like to offer the following suggestions for policy implications:
- (State) Include networks as an option for new teacher support in the mentor program.
- (District) Support teachers that choose to collaborate by offering credit for salary points.
- (University) Provide opportunities for pre-service teachers to become actively involved in teaching networks by establishing networks at the university level to be continued through teacher induction.
- (District/School) Provide time for teachers during the school day and/or throughout the year to collaborate on an ongoing basis.
Student achievement is the focus of education, but we must also address the issue of who is teaching our children. We all agree that effective teachers produce successful students, but who is training and supporting these teachers? We must remember that we, the educators, must also be given opportunities to learn and achieve as well. The more knowledgeable and successful we are as educators, the more our students will achieve.