There will be 11 teachers around the parish who will receive additional training on a broad spectrum of skills, thanks to a program initiated by Innovative Programs Director Kimberly Eckert and enthusiastically endorsed by Superintendent Wes Watts.
The program, called Learn West, will include teachers from Brusly High, Port Allen High, Caneview K-8, Lukeville and Chamberlin.
“We’re taking some of our best teachers and teaching them how to go out and speak and share their love of teaching to promote our profession,” Eckert said.
She said she hoped the participation of the nearly dozen teachers would improve the retention rate of the system and motivate other teachers.
“Retention of good teachers is a nationwide problem, not just a West Baton Rouge problem,” Eckert said.
Some of that problem is in the length of time it takes to learn how to be a good teacher, about five years, and the other is the tedium of the period between five years and 15, she continued.
“There’s a five- to 15-year stretch where it becomes routine,” Eckert said. “You’re just not invested in it as much because of the amount of help the new teachers require.”
“They end up in this space where they’re very good at what they do, they’re very happy with their jobs, but you’re in those four walls every day and you’re not continuing to grow,” she continued.
“We’re taking a look at not only how to retain our teachers but how to reenergize and reinvigorate some of our best teachers,” Eckert said. “Then the hope is that we create conditions where they can share and give that energy back to the people around them.”
Eckert explained some of the methods Teach West would implement.
“Throughout the course of the year, teachers will be supported through opportunities to lead trainings, programs, write blogs and conference proposals, conduct Twitter Chats, apply for fellowships, develop programs within their school, better measure their own results and report their research, understand policy and how it affects education,” she said.
“They’ll be meeting monthly for larger concepts and will receive individual or small group coaching each month towards their individualized goals,” Eckert said.
The teachers competed for positions in the programs with videos, she said, then a roundtable discussion followed to outline the areas on which the program would focus.
“The group interview became a really good session because the teachers got really interested in one another’s work,” Eckert said. “That gives them a chance to get out of those four walls.”
“Teaching is very solitary because of those four walls, so they get the opportunity to network,” she continued.
Another retention cause is that teachers generally believe they have to go into administration and become a principal to remain motivated.
“They feel the only way to expand their skills is to leave the classroom and become a principal or some other administrator,” Eckert said.
“So we’re taking a look at leadership,” she said. “What does it mean to be a leader.”
“All of them want to learn about leadership,” Eckert said. “You don’t have to be in charge to be a leader.”
“The hope is that not only will these teachers become more confident, more empowered teachers, but they will spread that spirit not only through West Baton Rouge, but through the state and the country.”
“We’re pretty excited about this because of how it will help our teachers,” Watts said.
“If we’re going to make our schools better, then we have to put great teachers in our classrooms,” he continued.
“We need to recruit teachers better, we need to train them better and we need to do a better job of retaining them and this program is a great way to do that,” Watts said.