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COVID and Beyond: An Eye Toward High Expectations for Quality Teaching

Addressing the needs of new teachers affected by the twin crises.

Teacher working with young students

Over the past year, COVID-19 created an uncertain landscape that deeply impacted our nation’s educational systems. Compounding the effects of the pandemic, another crisis emerged—racial injustice. These twin crises together have generated new obstacles and exacerbated those that have long been a concern of the educator community. As we reopen schools and return to in-class instruction, teachers face unprecedented challenges toward “getting back to normal,” including safety concerns, the need to address learning loss, and the social and emotional well-being of their students—a daunting undertaking for even the most experienced teacher.

With so much at stake, it is more important than ever to ensure high expectations for quality teaching—and that begins with the preparation of educators. While developing the pedagogical skills necessary to become a successful teacher occurs at the educator preparation program (EPP) level, teacher candidates put them into practice during field placements. With the PK-12 school closures brought on by the pandemic, teacher candidates could no longer continue their placements. As a result of these interruptions, coupled with the growing teacher shortage, many states enacted emergency policy changes for licensure and certification requirements.

After an unprecedented year, candidates who missed out on their field experiences are entering classrooms as teachers of record. These new teachers did not have the opportunity to engage in clinical experiences in-person prior to having their own classrooms, work with a mentor teacher to identify gaps in their pedagogy or use feedback to reflect upon best practices for instructional techniques. How do we ensure these teachers are supported to provide quality instruction to all students, and most importantly students who have already fallen behind due to a myriad of factors associated with the pandemic? Addressing this question, the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) report, Teaching in The Time of COViD-19: State Recommendations for Educator Preparation Programs and New Teachers, provides recommendations to states and EPPs on how to navigate the disruptions to licensure and certification, and clinical practice. The report also addresses the lack of induction supports for novice teachers whose preparation were impacted by the pandemic. According to the report, it is essential to assess the needs of new teachers impacted by the pandemic and identify areas for additional practice and mentorship. Research shows that effective mentors have a profound impact on teacher candidates and lead to better performance ratings. An induction plan that includes a mentorship program can equip new teachers with strategies for delivering high-quality instruction to diverse learners.

After a year of remote learning, students are returning to a familiar but uncertain landscape. Some, due to access to inadequate technology, have not been connected to school in over a year. Others are struggling to cope with mental health challenges stemming from factors associated with the pandemic and social justice crises. Many have experienced learning loss. New teachers will require the skillset to address the academic and social and emotional needs of students and more. To start, we must build urgency around equity. The twin crises magnified the need to address the equity gaps that exist in our educational system. According to AACTE’s report, districts should collaborate with EPPs to develop and provide professional development to new teachers whose preparation were impacted on instructional methods and content and pedagogical skills needed to effectively teach all students. Districts must also evaluate placement of these teachers to ensure that the least prepared teachers are not being disproportionately placed in schools with the highest needs and those serving mostly students of color.

While the past year presented many challenges for new teachers, there are lessons learned that can help us in educating the future, today. Now is the time for state leaders and educators to reimagine education and create a stronger and more equitable system, one that prioritizes access to profession-ready teachers for ALL students.

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Weade James

Vice President, Organizational Advancement