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Support Program Shows Promise for Retaining K-12 Teachers

Student teaching Kindergarten children

As the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on teacher retention across the country, Virginia is implementing a teacher support model it hopes will reverse the trend.

Based at James Madison University, the Virginia New Teacher Support Program (VaNTSP) has provided coaching for more than 1,000 early-career teachers across the state since getting its start just as the pandemic began in 2020.

Bryan Zugelder, an associate dean in the JMU College of Education, said research shows that oftentimes mentoring for new teachers is superficial. “It’s, ‘This is how you do certain things in this building, this is how you find your classroom, this is how you make the copies, this is how you do x, y and z.’ Teacher induction though should be more than that.”

With funding from the Virginia Department of Education, JMU and Virginia State University have teamed up to provide teacher coaches who offer the individual attention early-career teachers need to build confidence and succeed.

“If teachers don’t feel confident doing what they are able to do, that usually is the reason why they leave,” said Zugelder, who co-led a similar program in North Carolina with JMU’s now College of Education Dean, Mark L’Esperance, before coming to JMU. “What we’re trying to do with our program is help teachers develop greater levels of efficacy where they feel confident. When you feel confident in something, you are more than likely to keep at it.”

Dara Hall, who oversees teacher preparation at JMU, and who worked with a consortium of Shenandoah Valley schools and higher education partners to facilitate teacher training through the pandemic, said the VaNTSP will always be needed. “All new teachers need support, not just out of the pandemic,” she said.

Eric Pyle, a geology professor at JMU and president of the National Science Teaching Association, agrees.

“An inspiring and informed teacher is arguably the most important school-related factor influencing student achievement,” he said. “It is critical to pay close attention to how we train and support both new and experienced educators.”