A Principal's Challenge
On July 1, 2012, I was given the awesome task of the principalship at Plaquemine High School in Iberville Parish, Louisiana. The school was rated a "D" and considered a challenge many thought was impossible to repair. That summer, I had to build a team to create a vision, implement a positive culture and plan for highly effective instruction. My first and most important job: hire nine new teachers.
I wanted the best and most effective teachers I could find.
My team created interview questions and scenarios to assist us in the search process. We contacted our human resources department at the school board to get applicants, and we interviewed for the entire month of June.
The challenge was great; find teachers who were prepared for a classroom where students came with academic, social and emotional needs. This was a far greater obstacle than I had imagined. The new teachers who we interviewed were naive to the challenges teachers face in a realistic classroom setting: teaching to rigorous academic standards, planning highly effective activities where all students are engaged and challenged, and managing a classroom of students who rely on structures and procedures for their success. Many of those new teachers knew the theory of what it meant to be a highly effective teacher, but the implications of that theory had not been practiced or witnessed first-hand with a master or mentor teacher supporting them in the process.
That same school year we also implemented the Teacher Advancement Program, or TAP, and began to train teachers on highly effective strategies and best practices. We created clusters or job-embedded professional learning communities who met weekly. We had master and mentor teachers whose responsibility it was to assist teachers in effective classroom instruction and management.
Despite our efforts in training our staff through the TAP process, only three of those nine teachers are still with me today.
How great would it have been for my nine new teachers to have experienced an entire year of practice alongside a mentor teacher during their preparation experience before being given the responsibility of their first classroom? In Louisiana, this type of preparation experience will become part of every aspiring teacher's entry into the profession thanks to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE). In fall 2016, BESE approved policies for teacher preparation programs to include a yearlong residency that will benefit both the teacher and the schools in which they serve.
The first year for any teacher is the most challenging year in their career. For six of those new teachers, it was too much. I can't help but think if our state had implemented yearlong residencies; those teachers might still be on our team at Plaquemine High School.
Since 2012, we have grown to a "B" school and the credit for that letter grade goes to the outstanding teachers who understand the challenges of the classroom and who believe in the success their students can achieve. In the future, I look forward to hosting aspiring teachers in their residency programs in those teachers' classrooms so that every new teacher experiences success in their first year.
Chandler W. Smith
Plaquemine High School (Iberville Parish, Louisiana)