Good teachers are hard to find. And it is getting harder to find them. In fact, teacher shortages across the United States have ballooned over the past 20 years. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Teacher Shortage Areas study, in 1998 the number of teacher shortage areas in Georgia was a paltry 11—with three in different foreign languages, five in specific areas in special education, and three in specific career, technical, and agricultural education departments. Twenty years later, the scope of the problem has increased to all special education areas and all content areas—specifically math, science, and early childhood education.
Retaining teachers in the public school system is no easy feat. According to statistics from ED, 7 percent of teachers with one to three years of experience left the education workforce. This number includes traditionally prepared teachers who matriculated through a university or college teacher preparation program and completed some form of student teaching, as well as nontraditionally prepared teachers.
Due to Georgia’s teacher shortages in many content areas, the A Plus Education Reform Act of 2000 created an alternative preparation program named the Teacher Academy for Preparation and Pedagogy (TAPP). This program allowed individuals to enter the education field by taking education certification tests, completing pedagogical coursework, and by logging 50 hours of practicum experiences. An exit portfolio served as the final assessment, and if this was successfully passed, the teacher candidate was eligible for clear and renewable teacher certification. Because these individuals would complete the requirements for the TAPP program while being the teacher of record in a classroom, the program was pushed toward second-career seekers and new college graduates. According to the Georgia Professional Standards Commission, for the 2017–18 school year, TAPP candidates constituted 12 percent of the overall teacher workforce in Georgia.
In Clayton County Public Schools in Jonesboro, GA, we have augmented our teacher workforce by supplying 895 teachers to the district through our TAPP program since 2002. We support our candidates by observing and giving feedback, modeling lessons, mentoring and coaching, and assisting candidates in navigating through the two-year program. We also match our teaching candidates with school-based mentors who have obtained state Teacher Support and Coaching certification. This support has helped to produce quality teachers in 75 percent of the schools and programs within the county, and we have an 84 percent retention rate of TAPP program completers in the district.
Three Musts for Alternative Teachers
We owe our success to school partnerships and principal willingness to hire teachers with content knowledge, but very little to no pedagogical knowledge. The secondary principals who accept our candidates set them up for success by creating environments that allow them to learn and grow by keeping in mind their unique needs.
Three tenets are important for an administrator to support an alternative teacher:
- Be strategic in the grade levels in which you place teacher candidates.
- Hand-pick which mentors would be best suited to the TAPP candidates you accept.
- Create course schedules that allow the candidates to learn and grow professionally.
It may seem that these are important for any new teacher, but they are tremendously important for a teacher with no background in education.
1. Grade Placement
The administrator must go beyond the role of curriculum specialist or building leader and become a counselor for new, alternative teachers. Principals must be able to read the candidate’s personality and act accordingly. Personality in placement is key.
For our candidates who are in the core content areas (English-language arts, math, science, social studies), a principal must be strategic in the grade-level placement of a TAPP candidate. To enter into the TAPP program, a candidate must have raw content knowledge from the college they attended. Content knowledge alone does not mean that the candidate can be placed at any grade level. The candidates who have been the most successful have frequent meetings with the administrative team over the course of the summer and during preplanning. The candidate’s personality will reveal which grade level he or she would be best served in teaching.
For example, a candidate in a middle school who is not particularly assertive at entry into the program will typically not do well in an eighth-grade classroom, due to the age and personality of 14- and 15-year-old students. It has been our experience that administrators who place candidates with less-assertive personalities in a sixth-grade classroom are more successful because of students’ malleability after leaving an elementary school setting.
2. Mentor Choice
Connecting the right mentor to the TAPP candidate is monumental in the success of the candidate. Administrators who take the time to learn about the new teacher and assess what he or she will need regarding support are more likely to produce a stellar candidate-mentor pairing. In practice, the principals with whom I have worked do not pair a candidate with a mentor during preplanning, nor in the first week of instruction. Those who take the time to observe the candidate in action and debrief frequently not only learn the personality of the candidate, but they also can pinpoint where the candidate will need the most support. It is then—and only then—that the administrator looks at the roster of mentors and creates the match. Those who do not take the time to complete this important step have had issues with candidate-mentor pairings.
Like-minded personalities in mentor and candidates work well, but as they say, opposites do attract. A candidate who is very organized and does not see the benefit in creating relationships with students benefits greatly from a mentor who is strong in these areas. A teacher who has an overwhelming passion for the content and the students, but neglects to follow curriculum, needs a mentor who has the opposite characteristics. The administrator who is intuitive and knows his or her teachers is best at pairing mentors.
In our experience, principals who overload TAPP candidates with all of the students that the veteran teachers do not want to teach often find themselves with a vacancy very quickly. This is the No. 1 problem that will impact the candidate’s growth as an educator. Administrators tend to give their veteran teachers classes with students who do not have behavior issues, low numbers of special education students, and lower class size, when in reality it may be best to have the new teacher instruct these students. The candidates should receive more classes with fewer roadblocks as they learn how to teach. The candidate who can focus on how to best instruct (versus a candidate who spends most of his time dealing with constant behavior problems) becomes a proficient teacher more quickly than one with a “problem” classroom.
Surround Candidates With Support
Multipronged support from the administrator is paramount for the creation of a successful alternatively prepared teacher candidate. Intuition and careful planning and selection are the most important criteria for creating an environment in which the candidate can grow, as these steps significantly reduce the likelihood that the candidate will exit the program and the teaching profession. Think of new, alternative teacher candidates like plants—they need nourishment, constant care, and most importantly, love and attention.
Sean Antonetti is a teacher development specialist in the professional learning department of Clayton County Public Schools in Jonesboro, GA.
To Learn More …
Check out NASSP’s position on teacher shortage here: www.nassp.org/policy-advocacy-center/nassp-position-statements/teacher-shortage