Building a bond with beginning teachers

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When Terran Jackson began teaching health and physical education at Lumberton Junior High School in Robeson County, she felt overwhelmed. She had limited experience planning lessons and effectively managing a classroom and was also responsible for coaching youth volleyball after school. She found balancing her responsibilities in the classroom and on the court to be a huge challenge.

A recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, Jackson found help through the North Carolina Teacher Support Program (NC NTSP). Designed to support new teachers during their first three years of teaching, the program places new teachers from UNC institutions in high-need elementary, middle and high schools across the state. Participants are matched with an experienced teacher-coach who models teaching practices, provides advice and answers questions.

According to NC NTSP studies, one-third of North Carolina teachers leave the profession after three years and almost half leave the profession after five years. NC NTSP aims not only to reduce high teacher turnover but also provide support for the disproportionate number of beginning teachers in high-needs schools where students require expertise, stability and support to reach their academic potential, said Elizabeth Cunningham, director of the NC NTSP.

“A comprehensive induction program like the NC NTSP helps beginning teachers to develop the instructional strategies, classroom management skills and community relationships to succeed in their classrooms and remain in the profession,” Cunningham said. 

Alisa Chapman, vice president for academic and university programs at the University of North Carolina, said the University is always striving to recruit, prepare and support new teachers. “We have an overall goal within the University to prepare more higher quality teachers and leaders for our schools,” she said.

After regular meetings with her NC NTSP coach, Jackson adjusted her teaching plans and classroom management methods and realized her roles as a volleyball coach and teacher could intertwine. With this advice — and once her volleyball team won a championship — her excitement and confidence spilled over into the classroom, and she began to thrive. 

“I am very grateful for the support I am receiving from the NC NTSP program,” Jackson said. “My [coach] is so supportive, the professional development sessions that we have are very informative. I always bring great ideas back to the classroom that I can immediately use.”

Statewide efforts

NC NTSP serves 900 teachers in 28 counties and 124 regional schools in North Carolina, in areas surrounding East Carolina University, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill — and more recently, North Carolina State University and Western Carolina University. NC NTSP hopes to expand the program to other areas in North Carolina in the future.

Supported by a mix of state, government, and foundation funding, the program costs approximately $2,500 per teacher per year — which amounts to a savings, considering the state loses approximately $12,500 each time a teacher leaves the profession.

Aside from monetary benefits, however, the program boosts student achievement. According to NC NTSP data, achievement was higher for students being taught by teachers participating in the NC NTSP. More than 81 percent of teachers served by NC NTSP met expected student math and reading achievement goals in grades K-8, compared to 77 percent of beginning teachers in similar schools outside of the program.

“We’ve had teachers with the highest student achievement in their grade level in the school as beginning teachers,” said Dr. Ann Bullock, regional director for areas surrounding East Carolina University. “We’ve had achievement success and retention success, and we’ve decreased the number of teachers lost to struggling because the environment is different than how they student taught.”

Coaches in the classroom

Many view the coaching component of NC NTSP as a key to the program’s success.

“Coaches are critical to the foundation of the new teacher’s learning environment and are their initial support contact when in need,” Cunningham said. “Beginning teachers build a bond — professional, academic and personal — with their NC NTSP instructional coach that shapes their teaching experience.”

Pennsylvania native Julia Dawson, now a resident of North Carolina, teaches first grade at Princeville Elementary School in Edgecombe County. As a second-year teacher, she was struggling with classroom management and had trouble connecting with her students and understanding why their current learning abilities were underdeveloped.

First-year teacher Whitney Brown reads to her first-grade class as Ann Bullock and Martha Gore, with NC NTSP help out at Pactolus Elementary School in Greenville.  First-year teacher Whitney Brown reads to her first-grade class as Ann Bullock and Martha Gore, with NC NTSP help out at Pactolus Elementary School in Greenville.

After meeting with her NC NTSP coach, Dawson learned more about what her students were facing outside of the classroom. “As a second-year teacher, you’re still trying to figure out what you need to do,” she said. “One of the things that I really liked is that [my coach] connected with the students automatically. As soon as she walked in the door, she connected with me automatically [too].”

Dawson said her coach’s support enabled her to connect better with her students. Her coach co-taught with her on occasion and stepped in to help if she encountered problems. Additionally, she helped Dawson implement “Whole Brain Teaching,” a method that combines words and movement, to aid struggling students with math and reading and raise her class’ overall achievement.

“It’s nice to know we can go to someone, because it’s hard to go to an administrator and say that you’re struggling.” Dawson said. “[NC NTSP] helped me overcome those challenging times when I thought I couldn’t teach something.” 

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Learn more about the North Carolina Teacher Support Program.

NC NTSP was included in list of key recommendations made by the UNC Board of Governors Special Subcommittee on Teacher and School Leader Quality. The recommendation strives to improve support for early-career teachers by adopting and expanding NTSP statewide. 

Read more about the Subcommittee’s recommendations.

Homepage photo caption: Martha Gore, left, a retired school teacher and instructional coach with the North Carolina New Teacher Support Program, helps first-year teacher Whitney Brown in her first-grade at Pactolus Elementary School in Greenville. 
Photos by Travis Long | News and Observer