Paul A. Kirschner & Mirjam Neelen
The first few years as a teacher are critical with respect to both their teaching as well as retention. According to the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), for example, “nearly half of new teachers leave the classroom in their first five years, including 9.5 percent in the first year alone.” With respect to their teaching and teacher knowledge, a teacher may have learned all kinds of things during their teacher education, but the reality of the classroom can be very different. Jan van Driel, Nico Verloop and Wobbe de Vos (1998) showed that, learning how to teach (they called it the acquisition of a teachers’ craft knowledge) actually takes place in the school where the novice teacher works, after completing teacher education.
The researchers defined teachers’ professional knowledge as
integrated knowledge that represents the accumulated wisdom of teachers in relation to their teaching practice. Since this knowledge guides teachers’ actions in practice, it encompasses teachers’ knowledge and beliefs about different aspects of education, such as pedagogy/didactics, the students, the subject matter and the curriculum (p. 764).
Depending on where a novice teacher ends up, those first years as a practising teacher can be pleasant and well-oiled, providing an opportunity to learn a lot so that teaching is enjoyable. However, those initial years can also be experienced as a true trial, putting a novice teacher at risk of becoming burnt out and cracked and to eventually leave the profession.
If a novice teacher is unlucky enough to end up in the second situation, the result is reduced job satisfaction, lower student performance, and ultimately teacher dropout. According to the Chartered College of Teaching, the English Department for Education has calculated that 22% of teachers in England leave the profession within their first two years of teaching, with the number rising to 33% by year five (Foster, 2019). Hoping to solve some of the problems faced by starting teachers, some schools have begun offering “formal” induction programs for them. Unfortunately, so far, such programmes are more the exception rather the rule.
Fortunately, this is not the case everywhere. In some countries, for example England, support for novice teachers is regulated at a national level. Here, good induction is seen as an entitlement (a right). There, they’ve created an Early Career Framework for novice teachers, including financial resources and reserved time for support and guidance for them to enable professional development.
The early career framework (ECF) sets out what early career teachers are entitled to learn about and learn how to do when they start their careers. It underpins a new entitlement for 2 years of professional development designed to help early career teachers develop their practice, knowledge and working habits.
The framework provides a fully funded (£130 million / approx. €155 million per year), 2-year package of structured training and support, coupled with the best available research evidence. The support includes money to free up teachers’ schedules, provide high-quality free curricula and training materials, as well as money for the training of mentors of starting teachers and for the guidance and support they provide.
First a definition: A formal induction program is planned and deliberately designed to help teachers develop and grow in their profession. According to Wood and Stanulis (2009), a teacher induction is a “multi-faceted process of teacher development and novice teachers’ continued learning-to-teach through an organized professional development program [italics by us] of educative mentor support and formative assessment” (p. 3).
Such programs include, amongst other things: reduced teaching load, increased planning time, additional professional development or training, scheduled free time to participate in these activities, opportunities to observe experienced teachers, non-evaluative observation and feedback from other teachers and the school management, and mentoring. Such extensive induction programs have been shown to produce positive outcomes for beginning teachers, including reduced dropout rates, improved quality of instruction and better student performance.
Of course, a good question to ask is: Do such formal induction programs actually help? Through a rigorous meta-analysis, Jeffrey Keese and colleagues looked at whether induction and mentoring programs had statistically significant effects on teacher and student outcomes such as teacher retention, teacher effectiveness, and student performance. Published in Educational Research Review, they looked at the effects of in-service induction programs for novice teachers. These were studies that examined formalised introduction and/or mentoring of novice teachers in primary and secondary education (17 in total). In general, they found positive results in terms of teacher retention, teachers’ self-efficacy, their job satisfaction, and their opinions about the effectiveness of their instruction. With regard to the influence of these introductory programs on the students, they found positive effects on student performance (i.e., the students taught by those teachers). In short: Less teacher absenteeism, more satisfied teachers, and better learning!
You could call the first years as a teacher ‘make-or-break’ years. If we throw them in the swimming pool at the deep end, chances are they’ll drown. Give them the support they need, and they’ll possibly stay in the pool and become top swimmers.
Foster, D. (2019) Teacher recruitment and retention in England (House of Commons No. 7222). London: House of Commons.
Keese, J., Thompson, C. G., Waxman, H. C., McIntush, K., & Svajda-Hardy, M. (2023). A worthwhile endeavor? A meta-analysis of research on formalized novice teacher induction programs. Educational Research Review, 38, 100505
Van Driel, J. H., Verloop, N., & de Vos, W. (1998). Developing science teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 35, 673-695.
Wood, A. L., & Stanulis, R. N. (2009). Quality teacher induction: “Fourth-wave” (1997–2006) induction programs. The New Educator, 5, 1–23.