Public schools and teachers fill a fundamental role in our society, even when a pandemic significantly disrupts our lives. We have entered a unique time when we must imagine what our lives would be like if public schools are not held in-person for an entire year. Children would attend school from home or another location with the company of someone other than their teacher. The possibility of this concept has captured the attention of our state and nation and panicked many families. Teaching, we are learning, is an essential profession.

Our reliance on the K-12 education system means that we must also continually grow new teachers. Furthermore, we must retain these new teachers in the profession. According to a study by the National Center for Educational Statistics, new teachers are more likely to leave their schools and districts than their more experienced colleagues. Teacher turnover is inherently disruptive to school operations and reduces student achievement over time.

Yes, we are living and working to “ride out” the pandemic as an unusual, temporary situation. However, this fall, hundreds of new and aspiring teachers for thousands of Maine students will learn how to be a teacher in a different type of “normal.” This school year will become the foundational learning experience for their entry into the profession. Unfortunately, the school year is showing few signs of being normal.

Last winter, when our new and upcoming teachers applied for internships or first year teaching positions in fall 2020, they did not anticipate that school buildings would (or could) abruptly close for an indefinite period of time for health reasons (I am not sure if anyone did). They were also not aware that being a teacher would mean learning how to pivot between three different ways of holding class: in-person, online or a hybrid of the two – a new expectation for the profession. This significant change to teaching conditions creates a new dimension for instruction that could become overwhelming for an already steep learning curve.

Also, new and upcoming teachers may be challenged by limited social interactions and connections with their school community. Schools, especially in rural locations, often serve as the center of community events, sports, town meetings and socializing. In the upcoming school year, new and student teachers will not have the opportunity to get to the know the school community in these same ways, nor will the greater school community to get to know them as well. As a result, the incorporation of new and upcoming teachers as long-term members of the school community could be challenged.

Lastly, the financial strain of the pandemic on local and state budgets threatens the number of available teaching positions and continual funding for those who were recently hired. Relief money for education from the CARES Act and Coronavirus Relief Funding is a short-term “fix.” Long-term funding uncertainty may threaten new teacher’s confidence about opportunities to remain in the profession.

Becoming a good, effective teacher is noble and difficult. It also takes time. We should not lose sight of the many school years ahead for all of our students and teachers. Retaining new and upcoming teachers has been an ongoing challenge that may be more difficult as we adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic. This challenge is not impossible to overcome. Studies have shown that sufficient funding for teachers and general operating costs for schools relates to teacher retention. Additionally, professional development will be needed for all educators to continue their growth far beyond the next school year. Even during this pandemic, new teachers and interns need opportunities to be incorporated into each school community. We should also ensure new teachers should have plenty of opportunities to interact with more experienced and highly qualified colleagues. Last, but not least, aspiring teachers should know that they are entering a valued and essential profession. We need teachers.

Andrew Hudacs Ed.D. is a former a K-12 educator in public schools and state department of education administrator in the field of assessments, school improvement, school counseling and career and technical education. He currently is the Director of the Office of Educator Preparation and Professional Development Center at the University of Southern Maine.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: