Guest blog by Michelle Hurst, Secondary Science Coordinator for Mansfield ISD.
Experienced teachers are the most critical resources on a campus for quality education. In prior research literature, there has been significant research and media on retaining, growing, and mentoring new teachers, but little has been said about the motivation and growth of a school’s greatest source of professional capital, mid-career teachers who have experience in classroom management and pedagogical strategies. These teachers can grow stale and can be hard to retain in the classroom because they are often overlooked for development. Their motivation to teach may decrease over time. They stop searching for opportunities to grow and improve their teaching skills. Without additional support from the administrators, these mid-career teachers may fall into a phase Doan and Peters (2009) referred to as the “seven-year itch.” Doan and Peters (2009) continued to explain that “retaining mid-career teachers, however, has received little attention in comparison (to new teachers). Such teachers — those with six or more years’ experience –can face frustrations, question their career choice, and look for growth opportunities outside of the profession” (p. 18). From my experience, this “itch” comes from a lack of motivation and professional growth as opposed to a desire to actually leave the classroom. Mid-career teachers can be the heart of a school, yet fostering their growth and motivation is not always targeted.
Mid-career teachers have the advantage of time and experience in the classroom. However, time can bring significant changes in technology and student demographics. Teachers have tried-and-true lessons that have been taught year after year, despite new research and shifting methodologies in education. Repeating instructional practices over and over can actually lull a teacher into complacency. This complacency can be common in mid-career pedagogies. Classrooms look different than they did a decade ago, much less two decades; they have less paper and more technology. Students can google the answer to any worksheet put in front of them or share answers with their watches faster than a teacher can take attendance. The students themselves are also different. According to new data released by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the diversity of public schools in this nation will change drastically over the next decade or so, and appear much differently in 2022 than it does today. Just like new technology insists on learning new skills and new approaches, new student demographics do as well. A danger of the mid-career teacher is to continue to teach to the same kinds of students that sat in their desks when they began their career. Mid-career teachers must be willing to grow and learn almost as much as they did in their early years. This will require moving off of the plateau of complacency and the safety of last year’s lesson plans. Mid-career teachers require awareness and motivation to grow with students. New teachers are constantly learning, but teachers in their mid-career have confidence in their craft and can need encouragement or a push to learn new things.
Administrators who recognize the needs of mid-career teachers and how their important roles can add to improving commitment, interest and in helping these teachers set goals. These improvements can help grow already experienced teachers into even more effective and engaging educators. In my interviews on motivating factors for mid-career educators, multiple teachers referenced technology as a motivator to learn new things or change. Our campus distributes iPads to each student and the staff is asked to teach using tools, platforms and technologies different than any mid-career educator learned on. In many ways technology is an equalizer for mid-career teachers. Teachers who are not willing to adapt, ask questions, or attend trainings are marked down in evaluations and run the risk of not preparing students for a 21st century world. One teacher expressed, “The constant change in technology kind of forces me to do that. I have to learn with my students. It can be a struggle but I think it keeps me learning.”
As teachers progress throughout their careers, they must continue to learn and grow to stay effective. Technology is one tool that can be used more than to help teachers teach, but also to help motivate teachers to learn.