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What Should English Education Consist of During the First Years of Teachers' Careers?

What We Know

The attrition rate of new teachers has reached a crisis point in which 30–40% leave the profession within their first 5 years (Darling-Hammond, 2003; McCann & Johannessen, 2005; McCann, Johannessen, & Ricca, 2005; Smith & Ingersoll, 2004) Research suggests that the reasons for this are many, but significant among them is a lack of quality support for teachers as they begin their careers (Smith & Ingersoll, 2004).  These so-called “induction years” present a variety of challenges for all new teachers as they are immersed in the complex world of curricular planning, teaching, assessment, and professional responsibilities—a world that they too often enter in isolation.  Navigating the social and political corridors of schools only complicates the induction process for early career teachers.

CEE’s diverse membership (as university level ELA teacher educators, as administrators within school districts, and as teacher leaders within schools) allows us to bring specific understandings of the multiple ways we might be able to support English Language Arts teachers as they begin their careers.  Our goal is not only to reduce that attrition rate, but also to move beyond that:  to help teachers do more than just survive—to help them grow and thrive in this profession. 

We realize that our attempt to help early career teachers become successful must be focused in a number of areas:  (1) the multiple stages of teachers’ careers (from pre-service coursework through field work, student teaching, and into the first years on the job), (2) the multiple roles of English educators (as methods instructors, as student teaching supervisors, as facilitators of networks and support communities, as instructors of graduate level courses), and (3) the collaborations we are able to forge with numerous groups (from faculty in departments of English and colleges of education to district curriculum coordinators to principals and department heads to policy makers).  

This document outlines what we see as the role of ELA teacher educators and CEE in helping pre-service teachers successfully make the transition toward becoming successful classroom teachers.  We divide the document into three parts:  The stances and resources ELA teachers need to succeed during the induction period, the role ELA teacher educators play in that transition, and the action steps CEE might take to support that role.

1. What stances and resources do ELA teachers need to succeed during the induction period?

Research demonstrates that early years teachers who are most successful bring certain stances to their professional lives (McCann, Johannessen, and Ricca, 2005, for example, identify 6 traits identified by successful teachers).  One of our roles as ELA teacher educators is to help new teachers discover these stances in themselves, understand the importance of these stances to their teaching, and find ways to seek out the resources that will help them continually develop these stances in their pre-service and early career years.  

  • An openness toward constructive collaboration with other teachers: In contrast to the age-old myth of teachers shutting their doors and doing whatever they want, research suggests that early career teachers are most successful when they join a constructive community that provides them with opportunities to share experiences, think, learn, consider questions, reflect, and support each other.  Such communities might be local ones located within their own department, school, or district (such as book clubs, inquiry or teacher research groups) or they might be extended ones, as teachers link with a larger professional community (such as NCTE & local affiliates or NWP) (Bush, 2005; Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1999, 2003; Robb, 2000). Often these communities arise naturally from like-minded colleagues collaborating around a particular issue of concern; sometimes they are more formal creations of a school district or other entity. While traditionally these communities meet face to face, increasingly teacher support networks are virtual communities, conducted over email, blogs, and websites—and sometimes they are both (Swenson, 2003).
      
  • An ability to face challenges and find the support to navigate critical junctures:  Research suggests that teachers who are successful find ways to work through the critical junctures that all teachers face:  recovering from mistakes, contending with fatigue, managing developing relationships with students, learning to communicate and work effectively with supervisors and colleagues, and developing positive working relationships with parents and other community members (McCann & Johannessen, 2005; McCann, Johannessen, & Ricca, 2005; Smith & Ingersoll, 2004).
      
  • An ability to negotiate tensions and balance binaries:  Teachers face a number of very real tensions; those who are most successful accept those tensions as a part of the profession, find ways to negotiate the tensions, and find a balance:  between their personal and professional lives, between accountability and effective pedagogical practices, between idealism and realism, and among multiple pedagogies (Hillocks, 1999).
      
  • Development of their Teacher Identity/Persona: Again, research suggests that those teachers who develop a sense of self-as-teacher or efficacy (Alsup, Morrison-Sadder) are more likely to succeed.  Often teachers achieve this stance through recognizing their own classrooms as vital sources of information and appropriate sites for research and by becoming reflective teachers through action research.
2. How can ELA teacher educators best support early career teachers?

We see the role of the ELA teacher educator as an ongoing interaction with teachers—from their initial methods classes through their practica and student teaching experiences into their early career years and beyond. The roles that teacher educators play in this ongoing endeavor vary depending on the multiple contexts and situations through which the early career teachers move. Across all of these settings, though, ELA teacher educators:

  • Help early career teachers develop stances as knowledgeable practitioners who inquire into, collaborate on, and reflect on teaching and learning (Fecho, Price, & Read, 2004);
      
  • Help early career teachers know how to find and select, develop, and use the resources and partnerships they need to succeed ((DiPardo et al., 2006; McCann & Johannessen, 2005; McCann et al., 2005);
      
  • Work with other stakeholders in the induction endeavor (Darling-Hammond, 2003), i.e., student teaching supervisors, cooperating teachers, school administrators, and district curriculum coordinators. 

In order to achieve these goals, ELA teacher educators help early career teachers at various points along their journey:

  • We begin this work in pre-service courses like the methods class: For example, ELA teacher educators often invite pre-service teachers to join professional communities (e.g., NCTE, IRA, state affiliates, CoLEARN) and receive their publications; attend professional conferences (local, state, and national); and participate in collaborative reflection, inquiry, and research.  Sometimes these invitations become part of the course requirements. 
  • We continue this work by offering ongoing support for pre-service teachers in their field experiences and student teaching: For example, ELA teacher educators often engage and maintain support communities for student teachers via email, online and other networks, and professional organizations.  Others invite student teachers to present at conferences, organize local conferences for student teachers, or create blogs and websites.
  • We collaborate with other stakeholders as those parties work with early career teachers:  For example, many ELA teacher educators partner with schools to offer specific professional development for teachers, offer district-wide teacher research groups or book clubs, get involved in mentoring situations, and work with ELA teachers on research projects.
  • We offer graduate level courses for early career teachers as they work toward master’s degrees and continuing certifications:  ELA teacher educators work especially toward offering courses specific to the needs of these teachers in time frames and alternative formats that confirm with the complicated schedules of teachers’ lives.
  • We offer graduate level courses for experienced teachers who want to work as mentors with early career teachers: For example, many universities offer both specific courses and experiences to support teachers in their transition to become teacher leaders.  Such leaders learn to work specifically with early career teachers.
3. What is the role of CEE to support ELA teacher educators in this endeavor?

CEE has a vital role to play in coordinating the efforts of ELA teacher educators across the country to support early career ELA teachers. In order to provide advice and advocacy for ELA teacher education, however, we must work on many fronts to develop both a professional stance in the academic community and become more visible to those institutions who set educational agendas and policy (at the local, state, and national level).  In order to achieve those goals, we suggest the following action steps:

  • Become a resource center for ELA teacher educators: Through CEE’s website, we could create an electronic clearinghouse that focuses on opportunities and links for ELA teacher educators who work with early career teachers:  providing resources and links to successful mentoring programs, collaborative networks, research, and grant possibilities.  We believe this could be linked successfully to a larger NCTE website that provides pertinent research and classroom-based articles for early career ELA teachers (including a bank of ELA syllabi for various courses;  listservs for early career teachers; an on-line mentoring program; and links to grants and to national networks for support).
      
  • Create a CEE award that recognizes quality programs/research/initiatives to promote successful teacher induction:  One way to provide more visibility to vibrant and meaningful induction programs is to honor and publicize these initiatives.  An award would go a long way toward valuing the work ELA teacher educators do in teacher induction.
      
  • Create a CEE Commission on Induction/Retention: Such a commission would work with the CEE Executive Committee toward accomplishing these goals, specifically establishing and administering an award and creating an electronic resource center.

Alsup, J. (2006). Teacher identity discourses: Negotiating personal and
professional spaces
. NCTE-LEA Research Series. Mahwah, NJ: NCTE and LEA.
Bush, J. (2005).  Keeping new English teachers “young”:  Toward best practice in new teacher development.  English Journal 95 (2), 105–108.
Cochran-Smith, M., & Lytle, S. L. (1999). Relationships of knowledge and practice:  Teacher learning in communities. Review of Research in Education, 24, 249–305.
Cochran-Smith, M., & Lytle, S. L. (2003). Teacher learning communities. In J. Guthrie (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Education (pp. 2461–2469). New York: Macmillan.
Darling-Hammond, L. (2003). Keeping good teachers: Why it matters, what leaders can do. Educational Leadership, 60(8), 6–13.
DiPardo, A., Whitney, A., Fleischer, C., Johnson, T. S., Mayher, J., McCracken, N., et al. (2006). Understanding the relationship between research and teaching. English Education, 38(4), 295–311.
Fecho, B., Price, K., & Read, C. (2004). From Tununak to Beaufort:  Taking a critical inquiry stance as a first year teacher. English Education, 36(4), 263–288.
McCann, T. M., & Johannessen, L. R. (2005). The role and responsibility of the experienced teacher. English Journal, 95 (2), 52–57.
McCann, T. M., Johannessen, L. R., & Ricca, B. (2005). Responding to new teachers' concerns. Educational Leadership, 62 (8), 30–34.
McCann, T. M., Johannessen, L. R., & Ricca, B. (2005). Supporting beginning English teachers: Research and implications for teacher induction. Urbana: NCTE.
Morrison-Sadder, M. (2007). Building teacher efficacy in literacy instruction:
 What reading specialists and literacy coaches need to know. Powerpoint.
www.reading.org/downloads/52nd_conv_handouts/m_morrison-sadder.ppt
Robb, L. (2000). Redefining staff development:  A collaborative model for teachers and administrators. Portsmouth, NH:  Heinemann.
Smith, T. M., & Ingersoll, R. M. (2004). What are the effects of induction and mentoring on beginning teacher turnover? American Educational Research Journal, 41(3), 681–714.
Swenson, J.  Transformative teacher networks, on-line professional development, and the Write for your Life project.  English Education, 35 (4), 262–321.

***

This document was created in part as a result of the 2007 Conference on English Education Leadership and Policy Summit, Don Zancanella, CEE Chair, and Dawn Abt-Perkins, CEE Leadership and Policy Summit Chair.
 
Participants and authors in the “What should English education consist of during the first years of teachers’ careers?” thematic strand group of the CEE Summit included:

Co-Conveners: Cathy Fleischer and Jill Van Antwerp

Tammy Cook, University of Alabama
Tara Star Johnson, Purdue University
Thomas McCann, Elmhurst College
Connie Mietlicki, Governors State University
Paula Ressler, Illinois State University
Kia Jane Richmond, Northern Michigan University
Sue Steffel, Central Michigan University
Michelle Zoss, University of Georgia
Leah Zuidema, Dordt College

¥ Did not attend the CEE Summit but participated in online discussions.

If you wish to respond to this CEE belief statement, please comment below or email cee@ncte.org and specify which statement you are commenting on in the Subject of your email.

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