Newswise — Teacher turnover is plaguing the United States. Each year, more than 200,000 teachers leave the profession, most for reasons other than retirement. Dr. Hersh Waxman, professor in the Department of Teaching, Learning and Culture, found that solving the problem begins with targeting teacher self-efficacy through literacy coursework and mentorship.
Self-efficacy refers to someone’s belief in their ability to effectively perform tasks needed to achieve a goal or outcome. Teachers with high self-efficacy are less likely to encounter burnout and more prepared to overcome challenges. Those with low self-efficacy tend to avoid challenging tasks and quickly lose confidence in their abilities.
Research shows most teachers begin their career with moderate to high self-efficacy, but often experience a sharp decline during the first year. While teachers may see a slight increase in later years, their self-efficacy rarely reaches the level it was at the beginning of their careers.
Waxman said a way to improve self-efficacy for teachers is through training and mentorship.
Researchers found, regardless of a teacher’s content area or grade level, first-year teachers who completed reading content courses during their teacher preparation program and received discipline-specific mentoring had higher levels of self-efficacy.
“Reading coursework helps teachers gain pedagogical knowledge that allows them to engage students in literacy practices across content areas which has been found to improve students’ academic achievement. When teachers perceive students’ improvement, their self-efficacy often increases too,” explained Waxman.
Waxman and the research team focused specifically on reading coursework in teacher preparation programs. While research has shown the importance of literacy practices, there is a lack of research focusing on the importance of literacy coursework in preparing all teachers, regardless of content area disciplines.
Literacy can be integrated across all content areas in all grade levels because students are required to read and write in every subject. Waxman argues teachers with higher proficiency in teaching reading within their discipline will also have higher self-efficacy.
For example, a student may struggle in science because they cannot read and comprehend the text. However, a science teacher with high efficacy for literacy instruction will be able to help that student with strategies to improve.
“For teachers, reading coursework should be a priority as they are choosing a teacher preparation program. The outcomes associated with having even one course devoted to literacy practices may be helpful to them, regardless of the content area they teach in the future,” explained Waxman.
Another key to teacher retention comes in the form of mentoring. In line with previous research, many first-year teachers point to the importance of mentoring and support they receive when it comes to making a decision about their teaching future.
However, this study went further and found the type of mentor matters. First-year teachers with a discipline-specific mentor were more likely to maintain high or moderate levels of self-efficacy during their first year.
With content-area mentors in place, first-year teachers can learn the nuances of their specific content area to help them be successful. For example, a science teacher and a language arts teacher need different skills to manage a classroom based on varying classroom activities. Those skills can easily be learned from an effective mentor.
Waxman recommends school districts prepare mentorship programs that emphasize collaborative teaching and pair novice and veteran teachers based on their content area.
He also has a recommendation for policymakers: focus legislation on mentoring and education for new and practicing teachers. Waxman believes this will help ensure children are receiving the highest quality education possible.
You can read more about Waxman’s research in Annals of Dyslexia.