There is a common thread that ties together successful people. Nearly every successful adult I know can look back and remember a teacher who influenced them, pushed them and believed in them.
As the superintendent of St. Louis Public Schools, I am proud to say there are brilliant teachers like these throughout the district who are dedicated to serving our youth. We all wish great teachers could keep teaching forever, but the district must always be aware that today’s inspirational educators will be tomorrow’s retirees.
In the past – due to the size and scope of our district – new, qualified teachers sometimes slipped through the cracks. Since 2009, we have been providing targeted professional development and mentoring to first-year teachers, but we still lost some talented individuals because we were not providing the level of day-to-day support they needed to thrive.
Starting this year, we launched an initiative for all first-year teachers. The Teachers Matter project team includes top administrators from human resources, operations, academics, student support services, finance and accountability, along with the highly respected principal of Gateway STEM High School.
Working together and drawing on their individual strengths, the team members developed an initiative to welcome new teachers to St. Louis Public Schools and provide tangible, ongoing support not only from district staff but also at the school site, where it is often most valuable.
For all new teachers who were in place the first day of school, we welcomed them to SLPS with a T-shirt featuring the initiative’s slogan “Teachers Matter Because Students Matter” and a $50 gift card to purchase school supplies to outfit their classrooms.
We have opened up the lines of communication, sending helpful, practical tips to new teachers and encouraging feedback. We have scheduled “New Teacher Voice” sessions, during which I will meet with new teachers each quarter to learn about their challenges and brainstorm ways the district can better meet their needs.
New teachers will also be asked to fill out surveys on a regular basis to help gauge job satisfaction. Human resources will also play an important role in this initiative, examining its practices to streamline and improve the application process for new hires and researching salaries in the area to make sure the District is staying competitive.
One of the most difficult parts of any new job is learning the ropes. Just as every office has a unique culture, every school has a culture of its own, as well. To tackle everyday questions and concerns, each district principal has identified a seasoned teacher in his or her school who will assist first-year teachers as they explore and settle into their new environments. Known as “induction coordinators,” these experienced educators will serve as the point-of-contact for new teachers, ensuring a strong and well-prepared start to the school year, along with instructional, personal and professional support.
Just as we are excited to see the fresh faces of students bounding off the buses each year for the first day of school, we are excited to see fresh faces leading our classrooms, as well. We welcome all first-year teachers to SLPS and look forward to hearing from them as they explore their new careers at Saint Louis Public Schools and become part of our family.
Kelvin R. Adams, Ph.D., is superintendent of St. Louis Public Schools.