teacher leaders

Indiana teachers say they need more classroom practice before starting their jobs

PHOTO: Matt Detrich / Indianapolis Star
Teacher Eddie Rangel at IPS Key Learning Community School.

Too many teachers are entering classrooms without the right training to meet kids needs, say a group of 24 educators who’ve taken a deep look at their profession.

The educators are fellows from the Indianapolis chapter of Teach Plus, a national organization that trains teachers to be policy advocates in seven states. They’ve spent the last year exploring how better training and support could help keep teachers in their profession longer and planned to present their findings at an event tonight where they present their research projects.

Among their recommendations:

  • Teachers need to spend more time in a classroom before they begin in their jobs;
  • They need more practice working with students who have special needs and those who for whom English is not their first language; and,
  • They need mentorship from senior teachers once they start in a classroom.

The focus on how to keep teachers in the classroom comes as some Indiana school districts report difficulty recruiting and retaining teachers. The shortage led state Superintendent Glenda Ritz to appointed a committee that last year recommended teachers get more time actually teaching in schools before earning their teacher certifications. The legislature also passed a bill to support teacher mentors in 2016.

The Teach Plus fellows say they’ve looked into ways to implement their recommendations including new federal rules that could make it easier for Indiana districts to get government funding for teacher mentors or for a residency program that allows teachers a longer time in the classroom before they finish their education.

Another idea that wouldn’t necessarily require extra funding would be for districts and colleges to partner to let prospective teachers work as substitutes in schools that have difficulty filling temporary positions. That way, teaching students get the practice they need and schools can have more qualified substitutes without having to pay more.

“After I graduated I didn’t teach right away, I substitute-taught for six months to figure out what schools I liked and what I didn’t like,” said one second-year teacher interviewed for the research project. “Until you’re in the situation you don’t know how you’ll handle it. Substitute teaching made me resilient and gave me on-the-job training I didn’t get in my teacher prep at school. I would advocate for making that a requirement for graduating.”

Many of the educators interviewed by the Teach Plus fellows said additional training in special education is important for all teachers — not just those who work exclusively with children who have special needs.

Many teachers said they didn’t feel adequately prepared to handle this once they took their jobs, and those who did felt overburdened by the requests they often got from colleagues who needed help with a special-needs student.

Ultimately, the researchers said it’s important that legislators and other education officials get involved to help address some of these gaps.

“We routinely lose promising novice teachers because they enter the classroom underprepared,” the report said. “As a state, we cannot continue this trend. Teacher recommendations to improve the preparation process must be foremost in policymakers’ minds.”

What's your education story?

How this teacher went from so nervous her “voice was cracking” to a policy advocate

PHOTO: Provided
Jean Russell

Jean Russell is on sabbatical from her work as a literacy coach at Haverhill Elementary School in Fort Wayne after being named the 2016 Indiana Teacher of the Year. Her work as 2016 Indiana Teacher of the Year ignited her interest in education policy, and she is in the first cohort of TeachPlus statewide policy fellows. Nineteen other teachers from urban, suburban and rural areas are also members of the class. Below is Russell’s story condensed and lightly edited for clarity. For more stories from parents, students and educators, see our “What’s Your Education Story?” occasional series.

When I started this January as the 2016 Indiana Teacher of the Year, my overarching goal for my year of service is to focus on recruitment and retention of great teachers. One of the things that came up was the opportunity to serve on the ISTEP alternative assessment panel. (The committee was charged with choosing a replacement for the state’s exam.)

I definitely felt like that was something that is affecting recruitment and retention of great teachers in Indiana, and yet I was reticent about whether or not I was equipped to really be a part of that and to be a helpful voice at the table because policy is not something in my 26 years of teaching that I’ve had anything to do with before this.

The first couple of times that I went to those meetings, I like I just was out of my league, and I didn’t really feel like there was much I could contribute. And I think it was the third meeting, there came a point where a couple of people were saying things where I just felt like having the inside-the-classroom, in-the-trenches voice would really help the conversation.

I was so nervous. I remember, I was shaking, and my voice was cracking. The meetings were in the House of Representatives, so I had to push the button and lean into the microphone, and I’m like, “Hi, I’m Jean Russell.”

But I said what I knew, “I’ve been giving this test for 25 years and these are my experiences, and this is what I think.” I think the biggest surprise in that moment — I won’t ever forget that moment — was that they listened. And I knew that because they were asking good follow-up questions and making references back to what I had said. It sort of became a part of that conversation for that meeting. I never became very outspoken, but I think at that point, I realized that there is most assuredly a time when teacher voice at the table is important to decision making.

I feel like the four walls of my classroom just blew down, and suddenly I realized how many stakeholders there are in my little classroom, in my little hallway, in my little school.

(In the past, policy) just did not make my radar. I think I just felt like, nobody was really interested in what I thought. The work of the classroom is so intense and there’s such a sense of urgency every day to move everybody forward that this broader idea of education, I think I just thought it was something that happened to you and you just work within those parameters. For the first time in 26 years, I’m realizing that that’s not necessarily the case.

Building Better Teachers

20 educators from across Indiana have the chance to transform their profession

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
The first cohort of TeachPlus statewide policy fellows.

The Indianapolis branch of TeachPlus announced its newest cohort of policy fellows Wednesday, and there’s something a little bit different: For the first time, the 20 educators who will join the group are from rural, suburban and urban districts across Indiana.

TeachPlus is part of a national organization that trains teachers to advocate for policy, and it has been working with educators in Indianapolis since 2009. The group has played an influential role in Marion County, working with Indianapolis Public Schools on teacher evaluation models and pushing for a common enrollment system for public and charter schools. TeachPlus will continue a separate Indianapolis policy fellowship.

But as TeachPlus has focused on lobbying the legislature, it became clear that it should expand its membership to include educators from across the state, explained policy director Patrick McAlister. In part, that’s because legislators often give special attention to teachers from their own communities, he said.

“Sometimes the messenger is important when you are trying to shape policy and if a teacher or a person from your hometown says an issue is important, legislators listen,” he said. “There is so much focus on Indianapolis that voices from rural and suburban communities sometimes aren’t heard.”

While teachers from communities across the state bring different perspectives, McAlister said, they often share many of the same priorities, such as improving leadership opportunities.

(Read: Jean Russell, one of the new fellows, shared her experience finding her voice as a policy advocate with Chalkbeat.)

Here are the 20 educators who were chosen as statewide policy fellows:

Lesley Bright of Carlisle Middle School in Carlisle, IN

Carmen Napolitano of Fishers High School in Fishers, IN

Abby Taylor of Geist Elementary in Fishers, IN

Dominique Barnes of Mabel K. Holland in Fort Wayne, IN

Christopher McGrew of Haverhill Elementary School in Fort Wayne, IN

Robert McKerr of Carroll High School in Fort Wayne, IN

Jean Russell of Haverhill Elementary School in Fort Wayne, IN

Jessica Carlson of Garrett Middle School in Garrett, IN

Yvonne Lucas of Frankie Woods McCullough Girls’ Academy in Gary, IN

Liz Martin of Goshen Middle School in Goshen, IN

Jodi Koors of North Decatur Elementary School in Greensburg, IN

Christy Diehl of Jefferson High School in Lafayette, IN

John Gensic of Penn High School in Mishawaka, IN

Brittany Snyder of Northside Middle School in Muncie, IN

Megan Bilbo of Noblesville High School in Noblesville, IN

Allison Larty of Noblesville High School in Noblesville, IN

Michael Wallace of Sullivan High School in Sullivan, IN

Marianne Mazely-Allen of Terre Haute North Vigo High School in Terre Haute, IN

Kelly Day of Westfield Middle School in Westfield, IN

Amy Heath of Pleasant View Elementary in Yorktown, IN