Preparing Novice Teachers for Success in Elementary Classrooms through Professional Development
Burkman, Amy, Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin
In response to teacher attrition, many school districts have implemented induction programs that include mentoring, professional development, and special monitoring for a teacher's early years. Much literature exists discussing mentoring as one tool of the induction program, but little is provided about professional development specific to teachers new to the profession. The researcher surveyed all elementary teachers with less than 5 years of teaching experience in a large urban school district regarding the methods and delivery of professional development, as well as perceptions of general support through professional development based on their experiences in the induction program. A mismatch between high stress areas and appropriate professional development became evident. The author provides suggestions to administrators and school districts for improved professional development based on teacher needs identified in this study.
Each school year administrators at the campus level welcome new teachers into the classroom only to experience their permanent departure at the end of the year. According to Quinn (2005), the estimated attrition rate "hovers at 20-30%, and may approach 50% in urban school districts" (p. 225). No matter how well prepared a teacher may be, some aspects of teaching can only be learned on the job (Feiman-Nemser, 2001), and many teachers do not stay in teaching long enough to experience success. As a response to the attrition rate and teacher struggles, about half of the states in the United States have mandated mentoring and induction programs. Andrews and Quinn (2005) suggested that providing support to beginning teachers not only assists with teacher retention but also assists beginning teachers in becoming effective practitioners as soon as possible.
The purpose of this study was to identify challenges for novice teachers and to evaluate the availability of professional development for identified issues. Additionally, this study evaluated the preferences of novice teachers for delivery of professional development. For the purposes of this study, a novice teacher had less than 6 complete years of inservice experience as an educator. This term applied to teachers in all areas, including special services and enrichment courses.
Research regarding induction programs has focused on mentoring as a tool for decreasing novice-teacher attrition. The mentoring aspect of the induction program has gained in popularity; however, mentoring is only as strong as the mentors provided. According to Brill and McCartney (2008), improvement of teachers' work environments and professional development is more influential in convincing teachers to remain than mentoring programs alone.
Professional development on a campus and district level is needed in conjunction with mentoring programs to provide a solid foundation of support for a new teacher. Educators and administrators must "create the structures and culture that enable all teachers to continue learning in and from practice as they address the complex challenges of public education" (Feiman-Nemser, 2001, p. 29). Mentoring alone cannot support new teachers.
Research indicates, furthermore, that a successful induction program must include a professional development support system tailored to teachers' needs, years of service, and experiences (Hahs-Vaughn & Scherrf, 2008; Kilgore, Griffin, Otis-Wilborn, & Winn, 2003). Developers of professional development programs must also take into consideration the responsibilities of novice teachers. "Although some programs have few requirements, others require novices to complete workshops (e.g., technology, discipline), create portfolios, take part in online discussions, and attend district-based meetings while trying to navigate their 1st year in the classroom" (Hahs-Vaughn & Scherrf, 2008, p. 25). Too much professional development can be just as ineffective as too little; a balanced professional development plan is crucial.
Identified areas of challenge. When evaluating a professional development program, one must understand the challenges faced in the classroom. The challenges faced by novice teachers have been discussed extensively in the last decade. Crucial areas for most beginning teachers include curricular planning (Andrews & Quinn, 2005; Brewster & Railsback, 2001), classroom management and discipline (Brewster & Railsback, 2001), instructional techniques (Brewster & Railsback, 2001; Lundeen, 2004), access to materials (Brewster & Railsback, 200 1; Gratch, 2000; Whitaker, 2000), and dealing with parents (Gratch, 2000) . Classroom management and discipline alone encompass a wide variety of issues that are difficult to address solely by mentoring. McCaughtry, Cothran, Kulinna, Martin, and Faust (2005) believed teaching is overwhelming to the novice teacher due to the complex and challenging demands placed on professional educators.
Although Smith and Ingersoll asserted that "only one percent of new teachers currently receive the training necessary for comprehensive induction" (as cited in Quinn, 2005, para. 6), little research has been done to consider the correlation between professional development support in high stress areas and teacher retention. The time has come to explore these areas to determine if a relationship exists. Accordingly, I developed the study to ascertain the relationship between teacher stressors and support provided through professional development.
Delivery of professional development. One of the most important aspects of professional development is delivery. The method of delivery can generate interest in a topic or can deter participation. The methods of delivery most available to teachers include non-gradespecific, cooperative learning; gradespecific, small groups; seminars; online classes; and peer support groups (Quinn, 2005). According to Mansvelt, Suddaby, and O'Hara (2008), informal profeSsional development has a g«ater impact on teachers than does formal, because a much larger percentage of teachers choose to participate in informal development. Informal professional development is defined as a self-initiated or self- driven professional development; in contrast, formal development includes structured, assigned tasks with little or no input from the participant.
Morris, Chrispeels, and Burke (2003) found that professional development can be provided in two ways: through external teacher networks and through internal schoolreform networks. These networks encompass all methods of delivery. Creating external networks for teachers yields high results by providing a large variety of topics to meet a greater audience and a larger group of mentors or confidantes to assist in informal novice teacher induction. Internal networks provide a strong support team inside the school while providing school-specific training sessions to meet the immediate needs of the novice. According to Guskey and Yoon (2009), the overriding opinion is that
a lot of workshops are wasteful, especially the one-shot variety that offers no genuine follow-up or sustained support. But ironically, all of the studies that showed a positive relationship between professional development and improvements in student learning involved workshops or summer institutes, (p. 496)
The best way to address this apparent contradiction is to provide a variety of options in a workshop format, which is the most cost-effective method of providing professional development. The bottom line is that professionals should be the center of professional development programs that align the format and delivery to meet their needs (Papastamatis, Panitsidou, Giavrimis, & Papanis, 2009).
The purpose of this study was to consider the following questions: What challenges do novice teachers face in creating an engaging learning environment that meets the needs of all students? Have teachers been provided adequate learning opportunities to meet these challenges? How can campus administrators and school districts assist these teachers in working through these challenges within the context of campus trainings ?
Approximately 142 novice elementary teachers in a school district serving almost 25,000 students were invited to participate in this study. I chose the district as a representative sample due to the wide variety of demographics represented at each campus, as well as the willingness of administrators and teachers to participate. Teachers from both grade-level classrooms and enrichment classes were asked to participate in the study, as long as they had less than 6 complete years of experience in teaching.
The 16 elementary schools in this district serve students in prekindergarten through Grade 4. At the time of the study, the district served the following demographic population: African-American, 25%; Hispanic, 15.5%; White, 52.3%; Asian, 6.5%; and Native American, 0.7%. Approximately 32.4% of the students were economically disadvantaged, and 10% were Limited English Proficient (Texas Education Agency, 2009).
The first step in producing the questionnaire used in this study was creating an openended pilot survey. I used three questions to identify the struggles faced by teachers:
1* What are the biggest challenges you face as a teacher?
2. From the above challenges, rate your top five challenges.
3. When you are offered professional development, what methods of delivery are used?
Every teacher on two randomly-selected elementary campuses was given the pilot survey, and all surveys were returned. These teachers had experience ranging from 1 to 22 years. The range of experience was purposefully sought out to increase the validity of the questionnaire sent to novice teachers. The challenges identified by this initial group of teachers were compiled into a list of the 30 most important issues identified by teachers (see Appendix).
The 30 issues identified became the foundation of the questionnaire used in the study. Section 1 of the questionnaire included demographic questions about years of experience, age of teacher, and grades taught. After analyzing the data, I found that the majority of the participants had taught two or more elementary grade levels. This information was not considered in the analysis of the data because all of the teachers had taught only at the elementary level.
Section 2 listed the 30 challenges identified in the pilot survey and asked the participants to rate the challenges using five anchors with the following descriptors: 1= Not a concern, 2= Minor concern, 3= Moderate concern, 4= Serious concern, 5= Overwhelming concern. I deliberately did not include a choice of neutral concern because I wanted to force participants to choose some level of concern or no concern.
Following Section 2, participants were asked to identify which of the challenges had been addressed in trainings offered in-service. Participants were simply asked to mark the box beside each challenge if it was the topic of trainings. If the challenge had not been the topic of trainings, the participants were asked to leave the box blank.
Finally, the teachers were asked to rank nine types of training methods in order of interest. The ranking was to indicate the most effective methods used to encourage teachers to attend professional development. Varied methods were presented on the survey, including virtual opportunities. Also included were traditional presentations, self-paced, and reflective methods of learning.
The survey was posted online using Questionpro.com. This Web tool allowed teachers to access the survey by using a direct link. The link was e-mailed to all participants who volunteered to participate in the study. Only invited participants had access to the Web link. As teachers accessed the Web tool, a privacy notice was posted to ensure all participants of anonymity. The teachers could not be traced to a particular campus or district computer from the Questionpro.com survey site.
After gaining permission from the associate superintendent of the district, I invited teachers via direct e-mail to access the survey. The online tool did not record names but assigned a nonsequential number to each participant. As the teachers completed the online survey, answers were recorded in a spreadsheet on the Web site. The participants were notified that they had 1 week to access the Web site and complete the survey. At that time, the link became inactive, and no other participants could join the study. The data were then examined thoroughly to verify each survey was completed in its entirety. The rate of response for accurately completed surveys was 70%.
Analysis of Data
To ascertain the top five challenges identified by the most teachers, I added together the percentage of responses rated with an answer of 4 or 5 to show levels of high concern. Ratings of 1, 2 and 3 were similarly compiled to show a lower level of concern.
Next, I compared the percentages of teachers offered training on each topic to the identified perceived needs in Section 1. For example, although 93% of participants believed that working with emotionally disturbed students was a challenge, only 27% had been offered professional development in this area. Finally, I listed the nine methods of delivery from most interesting to least interesting on Section 3 of the survey. Each method of delivery was ranked based on a tallying system in which each method of professional development received a tally for being ranked first, second, or third. The percentage of teachers marking each area in the top three was calculated to create a list to show preference.
Of the 70% of participants who completed the survey correctly, demographic questions showed teaching experience, counting the current year, yielded an inverted Bell Curve. The range of participants' age was 22-49, with a mean age of 28.7 and a median age of 27. The population had a normal distribution.
I then analyzed the data to discern the top five challenges in the classroom as identified by the study participants. The questionnaire yielded five significant areas of concern for the novice teachers, as shown in Table 1. Two areas require definition: Emotionally disturbed students are students who are identified as having an emotional or behavioral problem that results in a difficulty in learning as identified by school diagnosticians or other specialized personnel. Students with psychological disorders have been assessed by trained and licensed personnel outside of the school environment and diagnosed with an illness recognized by the medical or psychiatric community; these students may or may not have difficulty learning. Both types of student can cause behavioral disruptions in a class, resulting in reduced learning for self and others.
A significant disparity emerged between the percentage of teachers facing each challenge and the percentage of teachers who had received professional development in the challenge area. The disparity is evident in the Figure, where the top five issues identified (labeled 1-5) are shown in comparison to the amount of professional development offered in each area.
The final area in the survey was designed to identify methods of presentation that would be most meaningful or appealing to the novice teachers. When asked to rank the nine listed methods of presentation, the participants in the study provided the data in Table 2. The nine types of training were ranked based on the percentage of teachers who ranked each as one of the top three types of training preferred. The ranking of the nine types of training showed two areas above 70% interest, four areas with 60-63% interest, and three with less than 50% interest. Fewer than 40% of participants indicated interest in a book study. This information, coupled with the top five challenges identified in Sections 1 and 2 of the survey, provided valuable insights to assist in providing meaningful support to novice teachers.
Challenges to Novice Teachers
Emotionally disturbed students. An overwhelming 93% of survey participants found emotionally disturbed students to be a challenge to providing adequate learning opportunities in the classroom. This supported closely Watzke's (2003) study that found that classroom management problems initially overshadow novices' instructional focus. The novice teachers in this study did not feel capable of providing quality education when the majority of classroom time was spent dealing with emotionally disturbed students. "Among teachers of students who experience emotional or behavioral difficulties, professional attrition has reached crisis proportions" (Mitchell & Arnold, 2004, p. 215).
Although the majority of participants mirrored the concerns discussed by Mitchell and Arnold (2004), only 27% of respondents had been offered any professional development on dealing with emotionally disturbed students. Such lack of training can negatively impact teachers who strive to learn behavior management techniques without guidance from experienced educators. Professional development could be used to provide a foundation of information for dealing with an emotionally disturbed student. Without research-proven methods to increase positive interactions with disturbed students, novice teachers can flounder and may give up.
Students with psychological disorders* The results of the study indicated that 83% of the participants were concerned about students with psychological disorders. Mitchell and Arnold (2004) reported that teachers "were more fearful of physical and verbal abuse, were troubled by loud and noisy students, and were concerned about student discipline" (p. 215) when psychologically impaired students were placed in their classes. Of participants in this study, only 23% had been offered professional development on how to deal with students who have psychological disorders. These findings duplicated the findings reported by Mitchell and Arnold (2004). This study reflected the same need for training as the study by Wehby, Lane, and Falk (2003) that showed "there [was] an increasingly obvious need for, "training of direct service providers in state-of-the-art, research-based practices that improve outcomes" (p. 196) for emotionally and behaviorally disturbed students. Without the proper training, teachers cannot be expected to cope with increasingly challenging behavior in addition to the already demanding job of educating a room full of students.
Overactive children. Children who are diagnosed as Attention Deficit Disordered or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disordered (ADD/ ADHD) and students who exhibit characteristics of ADD/ ADHD present a unique challenge to the elementary classroom teacher. According to Greene, Beszterczey, Katzenstein, Park, and Goring (2002),"Students with ADHD are rated as significantly more stressful to teach (across multiple domains) as compared to their classmates without ADHD" (p. 87). Study participants agreed with Greene et al., as 81% admitted to being challenged by overactive children. Nevertheless, only 27% had been offered professional development on dealing with this issue. The number of students identified as overactive increases yearly, but professional development opportunities do not increase at the same rate. "Teachers and districts working to better meet the needs of students with ADHD might try a model of collaboration" (Reis, 2002, p. 177) to educate teachers on dealing with ADD/ADHD students in addition to offering traditional professional development opportunities.
Stress management. With the amount of stress involved in teaching, it is not surprising that 81% of participants found stress challenging. What is surprising is that only 30% of the participants had been offered professional development in stress management. Yoon and Gilchrist (2003) agreed that "administrative support should be extended to include training... for managing professional stress" (p. 565). Environmental demands and pressures overwhelm novice teachers.
According to Austin, Shah, and Muncer (2005), educators tend to use escape and avoidance to deal with stress and "teachers who employ escape avoidance techniques to cope with stressors may be prone to the three aspects of burnout: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a lack of personal achievement" (p. 75). These aspects of burnout lead to high rates of teacher attrition. Teachers need to learn appropriate stress relief techniques to combat burnout and to increase professional growth and interest.
Special education students in general education classrooms. Special education students in the general education classroom present academic, social, and behavioral challenges to teachers. With 77% of participants struggling with special needs students, the lack of professional support and development revealed in this study was staggering. According to Wischnowski, Salmon, and Eaton (2004),
high frequency rule infraction could divert the attention of both teacher and student from learning. Thus, behavioral issues do have an impact on the success for an inclusion program. Often teachers are more concerned about how they will deal with behavioral issues than the academic strategies needed for special education students, (p. 342)
The three added stressors of academic, social, and behavioral challenges reduce the amount of time a teacher has to implement curriculum and increase teacher burnout.
Accommodations and the extra support needed for special education students increase teachers' frustration, especially when there has not been any training on how to manage the additional work involved. Additional support from special education teachers could help, if general education teachers knew what questions they needed to ask to get help. "Professional development has been described as an integral component to promote the success of collaboration between general and special education teachers" (Wischnowski, Salmon, & Eaton, 2004, p. 8). Unfortunately, only 20% of the study participants had ever been offered training on how to implement inclusion. In the absence of support to teachers who work with special education students, both the teachers and students are set up for failure.
The researcher determined a clear discrepancy between the areas of challenge and the professional development opportunities offered to teachers. At least 70% of the participants had never been offered training on each of the challenges identified. According to these data, novice teachers are being left to survive on their own. Without appropriate professional development or support, a novice teacher might quit when faced with a classroom full of students, each needing work adapted to his or her academic needs, and several needing behavioral modifications as well.
Professional development should be partnered with mentoring and induction programs to create a solid foundation of learning for the novice. To this point, the emphasis in teacher induction has been placed on mentoring programs, but mentors cannot be the sole support because they are also struggling to work with these issues. Lundeen (2004) believed that "professional development initiatives for new teachers... might include intense mentoring... and meaningful professional development" (p. 560). Research has shown that the mentoring programs are available and moderately successful. This study indicated that the time has come to examine professional development programs and how they can benefit the entire district, especially the novice teacher.
Online professional development is a new practice that has grown in popularity as users develop a higher level of comfort with technology. Novice teachers in particular have the benefit of being educated in a technologically advanced society. In online programs, teachers can work at an individual pace and choose topics that interest them without interfering with the needs of other novice teachers. Bush (2005) found that "maintaining motivation and interest were major challenges for the online training efforts [even though] many teachers now consider online learning a viable option" (p. 17). A majority of participants in this study ranked online professional development in the top three types of potential training opportunities.
The least preferred methods of professional development were reflective. Fewer than 50% of the study's participants ranked observations and book studies in the top three types of preferred professional development. Although a variety of professional development strategies should be used, such reflective strategies would be less cost- effective if fewer than 50% of participants consider them a priority when choosing a method of professional development.
Limitations of the Study
This initial research lays a foundation for a future study to explore the possibility of a relationship between teacher retention and an effectively aligned professional development program. The limitations of this study included a small sample size and use of participants from only one school district. Increasing the size of the sample in future studies will be critical to addressing the need for producing more effective professional development programs.
Professional development on a campus level and administrative support on a school level are needed in conjunction with mentoring programs to increase teacher retention and teacher competence. I found that professional development was not provided in the areas identified as most challenging to novice teachers in this study. Because the review of literature also indicated that novice educators may leave teaching because they do not receive support to combat classroom challenges, administrators should consider shaping professional development opportunities to supplement mentoring programs, which cannot provide the sweeping support needed. Shaping such professional development "presents tremendous challenges to the administrators because this requires a more systematic approach in identifying the needs of teachers and delivering the appropriate support within the specific organizational perspective" ( Yoon & Gilchrist, 2003, p. 564).
Research has largely ignored offering professional development options as an important component of success in an authentic support system. The time has come to expand research to include the examination of professional development, presentation styles, teacher input for professional development selection, and evaluation of knowledge gained from professional development. Together, researchers, educators, and administrators can provide the best opportunities for teacher and student success through the appropriate support of novice teachers.
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Amy Burkman, EdD, is an assistant professor of educational leadership at University of Texas A0,A/rr, t Jj- · · A&JVl Commerce. In addition to serving as an adjunct professor at the university level, she has worked as a Grade 4 and Grade 6 teacher, a librarian, and an elementary and middle school administrator. Burkman is a member of Epsilon Eta Chapter (TX) of DKG. email@example.com
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Preparing Novice Teachers for Success in Elementary Classrooms through Professional Development. Contributors: Burkman, Amy - Author. Journal title: Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin. Volume: 78. Issue: 3 Publication date: Spring 2012. Page number: 23+. © Delta Kappa Gamma Society International Summer 2010. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.