SOE News

School of Education explores ways to support recent graduates as beginning teachers “recharge and reconnect”

The School of Education hosted a three-session seminar series this school year called “Recharge and Reconnect.” Recent graduates who are in their early years of teaching were invited to campus on three Saturdays – in November, February and April – to explore the kinds of successes and challenges they were facing in their work.

“The goal was to provide support for relatively new teachers, to allow them to connect with others outside of their building and to build a broader network of support,” said Deb Eaker-Rich, assistant dean and quality assurance leader, who helped organize the seminars.

Each teacher was asked to come prepared to discuss at least one “dilemma of practice.” At the seminars, teachers were put into focus groups according to grade level. Each teacher had an opportunity to describe a dilemma while the other group members listened and offered ideas. Dilemmas brought by the teachers addressed issues related to students, parents, curriculum, collaboration with colleagues, leadership and internal conflicts.

Graduate students served as facilitators of the groups, ensuring that the discussions were moving along and that everyone was having a chance to speak. However, no faculty or administrators participated in the conversations.

“The teachers’ dialogues were open, lively and passionate,” Eaker-Rich said. “Sometimes teachers can speak more openly and allow themselves to be more vulnerable when they are talking with people they don’t work with every day. That seemed to be true in the seminars.”

Eaker-Rich added that some notable areas of commonality emerged from the conversations. “The teachers – all of whom were our graduates – seemed to share an emphasis on social justice. This became apparent as they talked about their experiences in their various schools,” she said. “In addition, they seemed to share a leadership orientation. Many of them seemed deeply committed to leading the way in improving their schools and communities.”

Information gleaned from the seminars was shared with School of Education faculty and administrators, with the aim of learning what the School can do to help prepare new teachers better for the classroom and support them once they are there.

In feedback sessions at the end of the seminar series, the teachers said they appreciated the strategies and ideas they received from the other participants and had already begun implementing many of them in their classrooms to address their dilemmas. One said, “I felt good in knowing I was not alone when it comes to issues in the classroom.”

They offered words of advice for new graduates who are just starting a teaching career. “You don’t have to implement everything you learned on the first day. You have plenty of time and you will learn new things. You don’t have to do it all,” said one. Another advised, “Don’t be afraid to ask questions and don’t be afraid to change things so they work for you.” Yet another suggested, “Don’t let more experienced teachers intimidate you; don’t be afraid to put your foot down!”

The 25 teachers who participated in the seminar series have asked to come back this summer and meet together again. “We hope we can arrange that,” Eaker-Rich said. “And we’re planning to try to make this happen again for other beginning teachers in the future.”

Bill McDiarmid, dean of the School of Education, underscored the importance of the seminars. “This kind of support is critical to helping teachers be effective early in their practice as well as keeping them in the profession,” he said. “The teachers’ discussions were also very helpful to us, as we work to keep teacher education program experiences in tune with the needs of teachers in today’s classrooms.”

The seminar series was offered as part of the Research Triangle Schools Partnership (RTSP), a collaboration between the School of Education and its neighboring public school districts. Associate Professor Harriet Able, director of RTSP, and Associate Professor Jocelyn Glazier helped organize the seminar series.