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Over the past hundred years, public education has increasingly faced more scrutiny and regulations. The factory model which dominated schools rose from the industrial revolution as students were treated as passive receptacles needing to be filled and passed along an assembly line. It was not until John Dewey began questioning this rote, sterile form of schooling in his Democracy and Education (1916) that this form of education began to change to a more child-centered approach. Progressive education continued until the latter half of the 20th century when traditionalists began a full-on assault with “Crisis in Education,” “What Went Wrong with U.
S. Schools,” and Rudolf Flesch’s 1955 Johnny Can’t Read. As a result, the federal government started to become increasingly involved in education policy and funding with the passing of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in 1965 which raised standards, provided funding, and attempted to increase accountability in all schools.
More recently, the 1983 report, A Nation at Risk, began to shake the education world with the “excellence movement.
” This push was exacerbated almost twenty years later when the Bush administration passed No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2001. School districts across the nation began a reinvigorated push for higher accountability mainly through increased standardized testing. Heightened anxiety around testing and accountability continued throughout much of the early twenty-first century as some districts scrambled to meet adequate yearly progress. The Common Core State Standards added another layer of accountability and complexity as teachers tried to prepare and plan for these rigorous standards.
In 2015, Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act, which came into effect in the 2017-2018 school year.
While this act relinquishes some federal control on accountability measures, states and districts are still trying to navigate the new law and balance the use of standardized tests. All teachers have been facing federal mandates in a high-stakes testing environment that connects teacher evaluation to student testing performance. To cope with increased accountability measures and to better support teachers, school districts considered ways of bringing teachers together because teacher collaboration has been linked to increased student achievement. Some districts chose to implement what is commonly known as professional learning communities (PLCs) which DuFour et. al (2008) define as “educators committed to working collaboratively in ongoing processes of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for the students they serve.
Professional learning communities operate under the assumption that the key to improved learning for students is continuous, job-embedded learning for educators”. These collaborative, teacher-driven groups work to break down barriers between teachers while pointedly examining how to increase student achievement. PLCs are not new and can be traced to the work of Judith Little (1982), Peter Senge (1990), and Etienne Wenger. PLCs have the potential the shift the tide and positively impact student achievement while creating supportive networks for teachers – veteran and novice alike. Existing and working in the current climate of education can be stressful for both veteran and novice teachers.
However, veteran teachers have navigated the seas of change before unlike novice teachers who are left to grapple not only with these accountability measures, but also the complex and timely endeavor of honing their craft. Even though novice teachers more often than not go through preservice programs, there is sometimes a disconnect between that first year on the job and preservice training. Adopting the PLC model “has been a boon to novice educators” as they work closely with veteran staff on teaching and receive emotional supports. Programs and practices that consider novice teachers’ psychological and professional needs can positively impact their satisfaction and productivity and even increase attrition.
The teacher turnover rate in this country is staggering with three out of ten new teachers transferring to a different school or leaving teaching altogether within the first year. After five years, research has shown that almost half of all new teachers leave the profession, as the ones who suffer the most are students who are left with novice teachers who are perennially trying to learn the landscape. With the nation needing between 1.7 to 2.7 million teachers over the next twenty years, something needs to change. These staggering loses cost the education system as a whole more than 7 billion dollars, and on a micro scale, school districts lose thousands of dollars hiring and retraining novice teachers. The National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (2003) found that this turnover could be perpetuating poor teacher quality.
Effective teachers are the most important variable related to student achievement, but if there is a “revolving door”, then that effect will be limited. Part of the novice teacher exodus could be due to a multitude of factors including the documented fact that first year teachers oftentimes have the most challenging classes and work with struggling learners. Moreover, the increased accountability measures along with the “marketization of education and intensification of teachers’ work challenge teachers’ ‘moral purpose’ and professional identity and adversely affect not only their retention but also new teachers’ intentions to remain in teaching”. Other major factors contributing to the departure of so many teachers are isolation and a lack of collegiality.
Encouraging a more congenial and supportive working environment, which PLCs aim to do, could be the panacea that educators are waiting for to support novice teachers. Most states in the United States have developed some sort of mentoring and/or induction programs to support new teachers both of which can ameliorate teacher turnover and help teachers become more effective. Smith and Ingersoll (2004) also claim that “collaborative activities” can increase the chances of retention. Cuddapah and Clayton (2011) found that a cohort model that allows participants to share their practices can even help shape and form teacher identity. Within a community of peers, novice teachers can broaden their knowledge and skills while also receiving emotional supports. Sharing “vulnerabilities, critiques, questions, and successes as they [novice teachers] make meaning of their practice and their emerging professional identities” can help novice teachers navigate their first few challenging years in the profession.
Professional support grounded in trusting relationships can help to create educational change and improvement. Yet, how will these novice teachers learn to work within these communities? What supports will or can be given to them so that they successfully integrate into existing PLCs? While empirical research on new teachers is limited (Cuddapah & Clayton, 2011, p. 64), there is some research (as cited above) that shows the benefit of supportive, collaborative communities. Novice teachers are overburdened with the multitude of training programs and demands of being new to the profession; however, if they work within a supportive community, perhaps they will be able to be more successful and end up staying in the profession and not falling victim to the dismal attrition statistics.
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