Supporting our Teachers: An Interview with Gateway’s Director of Curriculum and Instruction
By Danielle Ciccarelli / March 19, 2019
An interview by Danielle Ciccarelli with Becca Wieder
Research confirms that highly skilled teaching is the most important factor for student success in school. Yet, nearly 50% of teachers leave the profession within the first 5 years.
Nationally, annual teacher turnover is 14%, and, in urban school districts, the turnover is even higher, at 20%. Such high turnover can be destabilizing to schools and heartbreaking to students.
Here at Gateway, we recognize that teachers can become overwhelmed by the many factors it takes to be successful in the classroom. Leaders at Gateway are always exploring ways to make teaching more sustainable and rewarding.
Becca Wieder, Director of Curriculum and Instruction at Gateway High School, is at the forefront of this effort, collaborating with teachers and teacher leaders to evaluate and improve Gateway’s academic program and to support teachers in their practice. I talked with Becca about how Gateway supports its teachers and their practice.
Danielle: Becca, can you tell me a why you got into teaching, and why you stay?
Becca: My mom was a high school teacher for 40 years, and she went to work engaged every day, feeling curious and creative, like her intellectual curiosity was alive. My parents were also very committed to social justice issues, so I knew I wanted to make an impact on the world in a positive way.
Coming out of college, I really had seen how I could be intellectually engaged and have an impact. Teaching seemed like a perfect fit. In terms of staying in teaching, being able to see the effect of your work on individual people is incredible. I feel so lucky to be in this profession.
Danielle: What are some of the issues impacting teacher retention and sustainability?
Becca: Working conditions is a big one-- for example, what are the class sizes and how many different courses are teachers being asked to take on? Another factor is whether teachers have the opportunity to grow in their work, whether they have opportunities for leadership and continued learning.
At Gateway, we do a satisfaction survey every year, and we hear that people stay because of the opportunities to grow and change in their practice and to take on new roles, and to collaborate with their peers. New teachers definitely talk about the level of support being really crucial, especially from their coach, their department and the new teacher cohort.
Danielle: Can you tell me how Gateway supports new teachers?
Becca: As a society, something that is missed often in our narrative is how highly skilled a craft teaching is. There is this narrative that teaching is all about doing good, and doing good is important, and it draws a lot of people to this profession, but in some ways that being the lead in the narrative diminishes the skill and talent that’s required. There are so many mindsets, dispositions, habits and skills that teachers need to cultivate.
The first 5 years is a steep learning curve. We have to really think about how we care for teachers. Every person at Gateway has a mentor, a coach. Even if they have been in the profession for many years, coming to a new context can be quite challenging. And Gateway is unique in terms of the diversity of our students and their needs, even veteran teachers need some mentoring in making that transition.
We have a new teacher cohort that meets a few days before the rest of the faculty comes, so they start to build their community and their reliance on each other. New teachers build their connection with staff and that gives staff the chance to be leaders in all different capacities, which is part of what keeps us growing, the chance to mentor others. That group meets throughout the year, learning about Gateway together and connecting over the shared experience they’re having.
Danielle: Can you tell me more about the role of teacher coaches and mentors?
Becca: Teaching is a job that can get as big as you allow it to, so structuring time for people to work together helps contain it. In coaching, a lot of what we work on is sustainability. You learn early that you could work 100 hours a week, but actually, if you work that much you’re not going to be the best teacher, because your emotional reserves get so low. You need to show up with a whole lot of energy and compassion and brainpower, which you can’t do if you are working 100 hours a week.
There are a lot of life management skills that goes into this profession-- coaches can help teachers refine these, making them better teachers, and teacher who have enough work/life balance to stay in the profession.
Danielle: How does Gateway help teachers remain engaged and learning?
Becca: A lot of the things we believe in for our students, we also believe in for adults. Finding what you’re really excited about, passionate about, where your strengths are and having the space to run with those things, that’s something we try to do for our students, and I really think we live that value for adults in the building as well.
All of our roles have evolved based on things that are compelling to us and keep us engaged. And I think that has been modeled and has worked very well in terms of seeing the whole teacher just like we see the whole student.
Gateway is committed to addressing what it takes to keep teachers in the profession. We are proud to provide our teachers with the prestige, compensation, and support they deserve and need to stay in the profession.