Imagine you learn that a loved one is in dire need of an emergency, life-saving surgery. Think of the flood of emotions, anxiety, and concerns you would immediately feel. Now imagine discovering that the doctor slated to perform the operation was in her first year of practice.
Every day, parents throughout the state send their children to school entrusting the adults there to give their children a fair shot at good life and an increasingly elusive college and job market. Often times the parents of kids who are furthest behind, the ones most in need of truly exceptional teachers, are sending their kids into classrooms led by first-year educators. This problem has a surprisingly simple fix: taking to scale a program that the state has been piloting for years that treats our rookie teachers’ first years in the classroom like a medical residency.
In my first year as a teacher in Jefferson Parish, I taught a student whom I affectionately nicknamed Lolly--a spicy, spirited, wonderful young woman who was several grades behind in her math skills but filled with a desperate desire to be successful. After a year of lunch- and after-school tutoring, special help, behavioral plans, basketball games, and evening phone calls to talk through homework, Lolly eked out a score of Basic on her GEE. I remember ending the year feeling overwhelmed by the knowledge that, despite both of us trying our absolute hardest, Lolly had made only modest gains in her math skills that year. I knew that a kid like that in the care of the world's best teacher grows so much more than Lolly had that year. But I also knew I wasn't yet that teacher for Lolly.
Many years later, I am now a teacher coach for first-year teachers at Collegiate Academics, a network of high schools in New Orleans. Last year, I had the privilege of coaching Andy, a 22-year-old, bright eyed rookie teacher new to town and new to teaching. To say that he started his year struggling would be an understatement. His classroom was unstable and very little learning occurred on most days.
But fortunately for Andy and the kids he served, we participated in the state’s Believe and Prepare pilot program in partnership with TNTP. Through our partnership, Andy had a coach standing next to him and coaching him as he taught four days a week, meeting with him twice a week to set individual goals for he and his kids, and leading professional development twice a week in the evenings after school. We had a plan for his development, but were also constantly shifting his coaching and professional development in response to what was happening in his class. It is impossible for me to imagine Andy or his students being successful without our constant coaching around assessment data, child development, relationship building, lesson planning, or lesson delivery in the context of the actual students we were observing together every day.
Fast forward to the end of the year, and Andy’s scholars performed higher on their End of Course exam than any school in the Recovery School District. When I got to watch Andy announce to his class how wildly successfully they were, the one thought cycling through my mind was the number of kids who had passed through my class in my first few years as a teacher who could have been so much better served if I would have had the kind of support that Andy had.
Simply put, our new teachers—whether they are coming from university-based or alternative certification programs—are not prepared to lead a full class on their own on the first day. But our kids deserve the world’s best teachers. That is why I applaud the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education members who voted to approve the expansion of this program.
Doctors spend four years in post-graduate school, several more years as interns and residents, and then often many more years in training for specialties. And still we would shudder at the idea of entrusting a new surgeon with our loved one. As a society we have agreed that a doctor’s training should be as robust as possible since they are responsible for people’s lives and wellbeing. So are teachers, so it is time that their training and preparation catch up.