Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Differentiating New Teacher Support Programs

By on December 23, 2008

OK, so we preach about differentiating our lessons.  We preach about differentiating our students.  We preach about differentiating our assessments.  But what about differentiating the requirements of our new teacher programs?

I am a HUGE supporter of mentorship programs.  I found such great solace and support in my own mentors during my first few years of teaching that I now consider new teacher programs an unquestionable necessity in schools and a duty to participate in as a person who loves teaching.    

But I remember flexibility with my requirements and a differentiation in the presentation of my portfolio.  

I recall discussions about options and waiver possibilities based on what I already brought to the teaching table. 

I recollect my mentor taking things off my plate while I struggled with the challenges of being a new teacher.  

There seemed to be a place for working around the standardization while still fulfilling the requirements of the program.  But that ability to be flexible based on my own individual needs as a new educator seems to have all but disappeared.  

The year I mentored three new teachers to our school, it stunned me how different they all were in their varying degrees of preparedness, willingness, and ability-level.  Yet they all had to perform the same tasks in order to prove their expertise.  (Expertise, incidentally, comes with time, not through the number of assignments.)    

Let’s start by identifying the taxonomy of new teachers that enter into our field.  Like Howard Gardner’s pie charts of intelligences, I’m sure there are subtler, ever-growing types out there, but it seems to me that there are four main categories of new teachers:

1. Gifted, Totally called to the profession.  I enter their classroom and want to learn from them.

2. Green but Good, Willing to Learn

3. Those who are convinced that they are gifted, but, frankly, still need some Guidance

4. Those who should never have earned a credential in the first place.  For, I must admit, it still riles my proverbial rubric that our Ed programs won’t perform one of their most important functions, that of initial gatekeeper.  

There is a great fear in education, a seemingly universal trembling of the knees, that has guided our fight to disallow subjectivity.  Every other profession is assessed, paid, rewarded, fired, and trained based the varying degrees of individual achievement and ability.  How is it that teaching, that great Debater of Differentiation, can’t seem to let go its own reins?  

By driving itself via standardization, the teaching wagon train continues to go in circles around the dwindling campfire of student achievement.  (Was that metaphor out of control or did it work?   Ah well.) 

I understand that the state Beginning Teacher Support Programs (and all of their various counterparts) are standardized in an attempt to be fair and impartial.  Ironically, however, while its current incarnation was spurned on by the desire to be equitable, it has become one of many examples of how education on a whole is peppered with its own hypocrisy.  

Now don’t go gettin’ all huffy.  Surely you recognize that not all teachers are the same, but that’s just my point.  New Teacher Support Programs need to support each teacher in the way that they need, otherwise, they are generating more work, not necessary work.

And, no.  I don’t have a solution…yet.  I will say this, however:

1. If so much time is spent filling out worksheets, then wouldn’t it be beneficial if the worksheets actually modeled ways in how to engage a student?  Couldn’t the work required connect more to the style of assessment that teachers need to develop for their own students nowadays?  Only rarely in credential programs do the classes and professors themselves practice what they preach, teaching through modeling.  Why can’t we break that trend once we enter the workforce?  Why can’t the work itself help teach the teachers?

2. Couldn’t assignments at least be tailored to grade level or department?

3. And a brief note to schools: Why can’t a principal take other requirements off of new teachers’ plates?  Something as simple as letting them do their assignments in lieu of yard duty would make an incredible difference.  How ’bout an extra, monthly rotating prep for new teachers at a school that they could devote to producing the piles of evidence necessary to complete their new teacher support portfolio? 

Sometimes it is the pure generic quality of the work that makes it un-valuable.

In the attempt to create a program that can support all, many new teacher support programs instead create redundant work, tedious trials, and more side dishes on the already overflowing plates of our new teachers. 

But in all fairness, there is no one program, person, or level of education to blame for this breakdown in teacher training.  It is, however, all of ours to solve.  

How would you differentiate new teacher support programs?


Share Button