Three out of ten new classroom teachers in Arkansas are leaving the profession within five years, a disturbing trend that the University of the Ozarks’ Pat Walker Teacher Education Program is working to help change.
The U of O education program is partnering with the Guy Fenter Education Service Cooperative in a unique initiative to improve new teacher retention rates. The Early Career Professional Educators (ECPE) program is a mentoring initiative that will provide training and support to beginning teachers in an effort to keep more young teachers in the classroom.
According to the latest data from the Arkansas Department of Education, 31 percent of teachers in Arkansas leave the profession within five years. The 2018 Arkansas Educator Preparation Provider Quality Report showed that from 2008-2013, 69 percent of new teachers in Arkansas were still teaching after five years.
“New teachers in Arkansas are getting out of the profession at an alarming rate and we’re taking the initiative to reverse that trend,” said Dr. Brett Stone, dean of education at Ozarks. “We’ve had an on-going partnership with the Guy Fenter Coop for several years and this program is the next step in that partnership.”
The partnership between the University and the cooperative is the first of its kind in Arkansas. Under the agreement, dual-agency positions have been created: the director and assistant director of early career professional educators.
The director of the program will be Pam Terry, a former elementary teacher and principal who has led the University’s pre-service teacher field experiences since 2015. Amy Scaccia, a 2009 Ozarks graduate who has taught special education at Lamar High School for the past six years, has been hired as the assistant director of the program.
The two positions will be housed in the University’s teacher education center in Walker Hall. Both Terry and Scaccia will continue to teach in the education program at Ozarks while also working with new teachers in the Guy Fenter Coop, which includes 21 area school districts stretching from Lamar in the east to Fort Smith in the west.
The program will focus on years one, two and three of novice teachers and will include targeted feedback and support for new teachers from other distinguished teachers, content specialists and University professors through both on-site and technology platforms. The program is expected to include up to 400 early career teachers in kindergarten through 12th grade within the education cooperative in its first year.
“We’re going to offer professional development courses and other training and support programs that will reach these teachers during the formative years of their teaching career,” said Terry. “This partnership provides an opportunity to link theory and practice, share information and best practices and create opportunities for collaboration between early career professional educators.”
According to data on its own alumni, the retention rate for new U of O teacher education graduates is 90 percent over the past three years.
“Our new graduates are staying in the classroom at a much higher rate than the state average and that’s encouraging to us,” Stone said. “We feel like we can share some of the things we’re doing to help retain more teachers in this region.”
Roy Hester, the director of the Guy Fenter Education Service Cooperative, said he believes the partnership can help create the best mentoring program in the state for new teachers.
“To have the very best mentoring program in the state we need to think outside the box and try doing things a little different than we have in the past. That’s what we’re doing here,” Hester said. “We know that a good mentoring program can play a significant role in shaping the values, beliefs and teaching skills of a new teacher, as well as have a huge influence on their behavior and the choices they make later in their career. One of the main goals is to provide quality mentoring to these young teachers so their choice is to stay in the profession and make a career out of teaching.”
Scaccia said the support she received from the University’s teacher education program as a new teacher helped her stay in the classroom.
“It’s a very challenging and daunting profession, especially the first couple of years,” Scaccia said. “It’s almost a trial by fire and the support and advice I got from the faculty here at the University was extremely helpful. I think we can provide that same type of support to other teachers in the area and that might make a difference in them staying in the classroom.”
The goal is to increase the retention rate for teachers within their fifth year from 69 percent to 82 percent.
Terry, who will continue to serve as the University’s placement coordinator, said another benefit of the partnership is that Ozarks education students will have the opportunity to take part in the same training and professional development courses as the new teachers.
“Our students will definitely benefit from these professional learning opportunities,” Terry said. “Our students will help facilitate some of these workshops and programs and they will not only benefit from these, but they will have some leadership opportunities as well. The exciting thing is that we might have the opportunity to have a student for four years here at Ozarks and then another three years as a new teacher in the cooperative, for a total of seven years of support and guidance.”
Stone said he would like to see the program eventually include professional coaches to help the new teachers.
“I believe it would be extremely impactful if we could have professional coaches or consultants who could help these teachers with things like career mapping, networking and common issues in the classroom that might be new to the novice teacher but not new to a veteran teacher,” Stone said. “They can even help with retirement planning or personal finances. These professional coaches might be people that are no longer serving in positions of authority, such as retired principals or teachers, who could really mentor these young teachers.”
The program will begin later this summer with the first workshop taking place at the Guy Fenter Cooperative in Branch, Ark. Other training and workshops are scheduled to be held on campus in the fall.