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Career and Technical Education (CTE) | CTE Teachers | Teacher Retention

Effective Health Science Teacher Retention Strategies from a Former Educator

April 20th, 2021 | 6 min. read

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Have you ever had a health science instructor go back to the industry in the middle of the school year? Do you wish you could have better retention of your health science teachers?

You’re not alone.

An administrator in Texas recently told me that within the first two weeks of school every year, they’ll see a handful of health science instructors quit and go back to the industry. This is hugely disruptive to their students’ learning and often results in the administrator scrambling to cover the classes.

Like this administrator, your new teachers are optimistic and excited about their new career path, and you want to help them have a good start to the year. But what can you do to make that happen?

In this article, you’ll find two strategies to better retain health science teachers in your program:

  • Take the time to understand and support your teachers
  • Implement an authentic mentoring program for new health science teachers

Each of these strategies can make a difference in your health science teacher retention. However, they involve different levels of commitment and planning.

After reading the article, you’ll have a clearer idea of steps you can take to retain your health science teachers in your program!

Give Your Teachers Support and Understanding

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I’ve spoken with many first-year teachers over the years, and you’d be surprised how many of them share the same story: Their district gave them the keys to the classroom, told them their budget for the year, and said ‘good luck!’

Those teachers were afraid, confused, and angry about the lack of support they felt from their administration. 

As an administrator, your new health science teachers look to you as someone who will have their back as they jump into the unknown world of teaching.

This puts administrators like you in a tough spot. You may have dozens of teachers that report to you, not to mention the hundreds of students you’re responsible for!

So how can you dedicate time to new instructors while balancing everything else you need to get done? Here are a few quick tips to get started:

Put Yourself In Their Shoes

Most health science instructors didn’t go through formal education training. They were nurses and EMTs who made a huge leap to change their career direction and come to your district.

Acknowledge and Accept Their Challenges and Frustrations

Your new teachers don’t have the same level of knowledge in pedagogy, lesson planning, and managing a classroom as many teachers in the core subject areas.

This can make them feel nervous and out of place when they see how well other teachers around them are doing. Worse still, it can make them at risk for burning out and leaving the profession before they've established themselves.

To show your new teachers that it’s ok to not have it all together, ask them what they are nervous about or frustrated with.

Remind Them Why They're Here

Every new teacher decided to join your district for a reason. Ask what they are most excited about teaching and how they will incorporate their experience into their lessons.

This reminder can give them a boost when they’re having a tough week. Sometimes, it can be the difference in a teacher sticking it out instead of going back to the industry!

Implement an Authentic Mentorship Program for New Health Science Teachers

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If you’re looking to go a step further to ensure your new teachers stick around for the long haul, consider implementing a deeper, more structured mentorship program.

Based on conversations with administrators and teachers, we’ve found mentoring is one of the most effective ways to retain CTE health science teachers.

“In our district, if you’re a new teacher, you’re assigned a peer teacher. It’s not the content they need help with. It’s classroom management. New teachers will often say, ‘We need voices of experience giving us ideas of what to do.’”

Julie Connolley, Health Science Supervisor

Marion County Schools, FL

Below are the most important considerations for you to implement a mentoring program for your health science teachers.

Choose Your Mentors

The first step in starting a mentorship program is identifying who the mentor(s) will be.

A mentor for these new instructors could be one of your rockstar teachers who is willing to put in extra time and effort.

Another option could be an instructional coach or program coordinator, who may be better positioned to spend the time on mentoring rather than a teacher who is taking care of their own classes.

When discussing the opportunity with potential mentors, be upfront about your expectations and the time involved. Many administrators offer a stipend to their mentors to acknowledge the time and energy mentorship takes out of their day.

Build Structure and Expectations

To ensure success on both ends, there needs to be a structure to the mentorship.

Here’s an example of what the first steps could look like:

  • Month 1 - Mentor and mentee will lesson plan together once per week so they understand the process and how to build a lesson.
  • Month 2 - Mentor and mentee focus on scope and sequence, so the new teacher feels comfortable meeting student goals and objectives.

When building the structure, consult your mentors to learn what they feel would be most valuable at specific points of the marking period.

Meet with Your Mentors

It’s common for mentors to be assigned, but it’s just as common for them to drop the ball because no one is holding them accountable.

To make sure your mentors genuinely support the new teachers, meet with them regularly (either monthly or bi-weekly) throughout the first grading period.

During these check-ins, ask your mentors how things are going, what’s working well, and what they find difficult. Then sit back and listen to their thoughts.

Based on their answers, you’ll be able to gauge how things are going and if anything should be adjusted.

Reflect and Improve

Once your new health science teachers have gotten into the swing of things, be sure to ask how they felt about the mentorship program.

Ask what was most valuable and if there are any areas they needed more help with.

Their honest feedback and insights will help you improve the mentorship programs for the next health science instructor you hire!

Set Your New Health Science Teachers Up for Success

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Overall, changing your health science teachers’ introduction to teaching will radically impact your teacher retention in the long run.

Whether you use a few tips to support those teachers in the day-to-day or build out an entire mentorship program, all it takes is the first step in the right direction.

Based on my experience, I’ve found one of the best things you can do for any new teacher is to give them a classroom management book.

While there are dozens of books on classroom management out there, one of the more popular options is The First Day of School by Rosemary T. Wong and Harry K. Wong.

Nearly every teacher I know has read it, and it will be the perfect resource for your health science teachers to use and reference even after their first year of teaching!