By Brandy Beasley
As I look back over the years of my time in the classroom, I remember many of my defining moments. Few of them happened alone; each one was shared with a colleague who guided, encouraged, assisted, and fought for me and provided me opportunities that I never thought possible.
One of the most difficult demands of being a teacher is meeting the needs of all students. Differentiating is a daunting task, especially during your first few years. I was fortunate enough to have a colleague that was gifted at meeting the needs of individual students. Ms. Molly Tackett was a special education teacher and we shared a fourth-grade class. Our time spent in discussion, lesson planning and problem-solving taught me how to meet the needs of all learners in a way that was manageable. She showed me how to take one learning target and adjust it to meet individual needs.
During my first few years of teaching, this type of guidance gave me the confidence I needed to try new strategies that demystified planning and differentiation. The way I teach has become more complex over time, but I would have likely given up teaching entirely if it were not for mentorship. Those moments defined me as a teacher who is flexible, creative and empathetic.
The first seven years of my career at Emma B. Ward Elementary (Anderson County) were led by our principal, Mrs. Sarah Sweat. She will always be the educator who believed in me first. She gave me my first teaching job. She saw potential in me that I didn’t see in myself. Eventually, I began to see what she saw.
Mrs. Sweat encouraged me to step outside the four walls of my classroom into a new world of collaboration. She provided me with professional learning opportunities. She gave me the opportunity to speak up when I had new ideas. She asked hard questions: Why didn’t this work? What could you have done to improve upon this? What was your intention?
As I became an experienced teacher, it was also Mrs. Sweat who was the first person to show me that I had the potential to be a leader. She valued my opinion and reflections. She knew I had a passion for helping others and fostered that by creating opportunities for me to coach and mentor others. All of those moments defined me as someone who is courageous, inquisitive and helpful.
Because I have had a remarkable support system, it is hard for me to believe that not every teacher has. I know of teachers who have had to solicit help outside their buildings because they can’t find it within. I have had teachers share their struggles of “feeling like an island” because of the lack of support from their colleagues. I have even known teachers to leave the profession due to frustration, confusion and their constant struggle with the demands of teaching.
Kentucky’s Equity Plan reflects a problem with teacher retention in the state. Almost 56 percent of new teachers remained teaching in the same school after two years and almost 63 percent remained in the same district. High rates of teacher turnover disrupt the formation and maintenance of relationships that form over time.
Thankfully, the Equity Plan has intentional steps to address these statistics: increased training for pre-service teachers, working with institutes of higher learning to better prepare pre-service teachers, and developing induction and mentoring programs are just a few. What an exciting time for Kentucky teachers!
According to the Equity Plan, we also know that additional mentoring and induction beyond the first year is necessary to support teachers. Many factors contribute to the problem of teacher retention, but we cannot allow lack of support be what drives good teachers out of the profession. Would I still be working in my seventeenth year if someone had not taken the time to coach, mentor and guide me?
As a hybrid teacher leader for the Kentucky Department of Education, my goal is to create a tool that will provide support for new teachers. For example, I see a need to help new teachers understand and use assessment literacy. The larger work to provide more support for new teachers will be organized by the Framework for Teaching.
Kentucky is fortunate to have many talented, compassionate, innovative and experienced teachers. Becoming a mentor to those just entering the profession can be more than just a casual connection made in the hallway. With appropriate, intentional mentoring systems in place, the kids of the Commonwealth of Kentucky will benefit from all of their teachers for years to come.
Have an idea about how to support teachers in their first few years? Contact Brandy.Beasley@education.ky.gov.
Brandy Beasley has taught in Anderson County Schools for 16 years. She has served as a primary teacher, intermediate teacher and a curriculum resource teacher/instructional coach. Beasley now serves as the math interventionist for her school and works as a hybrid teacher in the field for KDE as a teacher leader on special assignment.