Whenever we speak with Career & Technical Education administrators, a common problem we hear about is low teacher retention. Usually CTE teachers have a lot of industry experience and knowledge, but hardly any teaching experience. They are faced with unfamiliar situations, like classroom management, discipline, and planning, which they aren’t trained for.
So what are some teacher retention strategies that can help CTE administrators retain teachers, and help first-year teachers succeed?
Recently, Jim Schultz met with administrators and educators in the CTE Health Science Department of West Port High School in Marion County, Florida. He picked their brains to learn about the strategies they have found to be successful in helping new health science teachers succeed and stick around for the long haul.
Meet the West Port High School Health Science Department
Before diving into the struggles for first year teachers and strategies for how to retain CTE teachers, it’s important to understand the background of the educators.
Julie Connolley is the Health Science Supervisor for Marion County Schools. Originally, she was a stay at home mom, volunteering at her son’s elementary school when an opportunity came up:
“I was volunteering at my son’s elementary school… I had medical training and they said ‘There are these medical programs in high schools. Would you be interested with your background?’ I’m like yeah maybe… the rest is history. I taught [health science] for 16 years and then I had the opportunity to move and be their support and their voice at the district level.”
Shurene Major has some local experience:
“I’m from Marion County. I went to high school here, went through the CTE program for Medical Assisting, and got hired at nineteen.
The doctor I worked for pushed me to get into teaching, she knew somebody that knew somebody that knew somebody that had a position here at West Port and I applied and I got the job. I’ve been here since then. This is my 4th year.”
We all have a journey to get us where we’re meant to be, and sometimes that journey takes unexpected twists and turns. Hollie Cunningham knows this best:
“I wanted to be a teacher, but I also wanted to be a nurse. I was in grad school for my ARNP and I was going into my second year. I told my husband with tears in my face, ‘I really think I want to teach,’ and he was like, ‘Okay, well if you don’t want to work as an ARNP, you want to teach. Let’s stop and see where it goes from there.’
I called Mrs. Ellspermann [the Principal] and she said ‘You know what, why don’t you just come in.’ She had been interviewing people, but she’s the type that will put a long term sub in until she finds the person that she wants. I came in and talked to her for 45 minutes and she’s like ‘I’ve been talking to 2 other people, but I think you would be a good fit for our school.’
I’ve been here teaching around 4 years... 6 weeks more than Shurene. We got here around the same time.”
First Year Woes for Health Science Technology Teachers
The difficulties and struggles faced by health science instructors can drive them away even before the end of their first year. A high turnover rate is not a good thing, especially in the education field. You want CTE teachers to stay around to gain experience and reach their highest potential as educators. To do that administrators and fellow teachers have to work hard to help their new recruits through the stressful beginning phase. Shurene described her own experience with starting out the first year:
“I didn’t know what I was doing and I’m like, ‘You guys expect me to know how to do this? I don’t know that you’re supposed to have a grade in every week, no one told me that. I’m supposed to have an essential question and an “I will” statement. How do you create an essential question? What do you do? What is a standard?’”
Teacher Retention Strategies and Advice
Administrators have a lot of responsibility in making the transition to teaching as smooth as possible. However, the teachers themselves have numerous options for help in getting through the rough beginning period.
Shurene started by saying new teachers should be sure to ask others for help:
“Use all of the resources you can, [mainly] meaning other teachers. When I first started, I was calling and emailing her so many times it was crazy… Have someone actually sit down and explain it if possible.”
Julie and Hollie reiterated this, emphasizing the importance of utilizing mentors. It can help you not only in practical ways, in terms of having someone to help resolve day-to-day issues, but also in the long run. Seeing someone else who has gotten through the tough part and achieved success reminds you of what you are working towards, and inspires you to get through your struggles.
In her role at Marion County, Julie is able to act as a mentor for the health science instructors. She explained how helping with behavior and classroom management is one way she can make an impact on the new teachers:
“It’s not the content they need help with. It’s classroom management… You give these teachers ideas. You go into their class and if a kid is driving them crazy, I’ll say ‘Send them over to a neighbor for a while. Give them some work to do.’ and the teacher will say ‘We need voices of experience giving us these ideas to do.’
In our district if you’re a new teacher, you’re assigned a peer teacher. That’s not necessarily in your content area, but it gets you through the procedures of the school and the day in and day out stuff.”
Another helpful idea for getting through the transition to teaching is to remind yourself of your talent and ability. Confidence is crucial to success, and reminding yourself of your characteristics that can make you great at your job is a surefire way of instilling confidence. As a new health science teacher, if you ever find yourself questioning your ability, just remember that your background in health care can help you with more than just being a master of the content. Julie explained what it can do for your instructional ability:
“You just don’t realize that you’ve done it all along… in medicine you are a teacher because you’ve been a patient educator your whole career.”
Health Science Resources to Save You Time
Administrators like Julie have seen it many times and they know what the new teachers struggle with the most:
“This year I’ve got four new health science teachers that I work with… They need to know how to run a class, how to do the behavior. They know the content but if they can’t get the classroom management piece they don’t succeed.”
Our goal at AES with curriculum like HealthCenter21 is to save teachers time by providing them with content and tools to help save them time regarding lesson planning, project creation, and grading. Julie emphasized this point with how HealthCenter21 helps her new teachers:
“As a new teacher, if you have that [lesson planning] already done, you can breathe. You have everything in there [HealthCenter21]. You have lesson plans for teachers, you have worksheets for teachers. They would already know that it’s aligned to the standards.”
Shurene also shared how HealthCenter21 saves her time with grading:
“HealthCenter21 grades your test for you!... I have a percentage that I can now take and put into my grade book… that takes me 2 minutes to do versus sitting there with the paper and grading.”
In addition to effective classroom management being an essential part of becoming a successful teacher, meeting the unique needs of individual students is of the utmost importance. Not only can HealthCenter21 free up time so you can focus on that, but, as Shurene explained, it can help with different student needs:
“I like that HealthCenter21 has audio… We have a lot of freshmen for Medical Skills and they are English as a Second Language Learners and they don’t read well. Listening to it helps them actually comprehend the words that they’re seeing on the screen.”