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VOL. 128 | NO. 199 | Friday, October 11, 2013

Martin Institute Launches New Teacher Network

By Bill Dries

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The proposal that kick-started education reform in Memphis began with the statistic that 40 percent of teachers in the former Memphis City Schools system left by their third year as an educator.

The Martin Institute has put together a networking series aimed at teachers in the critical first three years of their careers. 

(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

It was the basis for the Teacher Effectiveness Initiative, which won $90 million in funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as well as funding from local nonprofits – all in a seven-year period.

Changing the trajectory of new and beginning teachers has been a recurring theme as the local education reformation has added layers of complexity from teacher residency programs to higher Common Core standards.

The Martin Institute for Teaching Excellence’s New Teacher Network initiative is a set of six sessions and two conferences between Oct. 15 and June 11 – ending with the Institute’s annual summer conference. The network is aimed at public- and private-school teachers who are in the first three years of their careers.

“We’re trying to help him or her develop some really strategic and deep habits as they start their profession,” said Jamie Baker, executive director of The Martin Institute. “What we’re also trying to do is increase a deep sense of professionalism among teachers, and the best way to do that is at the very beginning.”

Baker came up with the six after-school sessions after asking school leaders the top five things they wish new teachers understood more clearly – what she termed “problems of practice.”

From there she mapped out the six topics – starting with the Oct. 15 session on mindset, routines and procedures. That includes how to organize and run a classroom, as well as classroom routines and procedures.

With a light dinner at the end of each 2.5-hour session, the goal is also to get new teachers from different schools and school systems talking to each other.

“One of the biggest contributors to burnout for new teachers within the first five years of their career is the sense of isolationism that they feel in the classroom,” Baker said. “Traditionally our schools are designed like egg cartons so that you have your classroom, your curriculum and your kids. And it can be a very solitary existence. What we want to do is connect young, new teachers at basically the same stage of their careers to one another so that they become colleagues – true professional colleagues.”

The New Teacher Network includes experienced teachers, but it is a chance for new teachers to get a perspective beyond day-to-day life in their particular school.

“We’re trying to help him or her develop some really strategic and deep habits as they start their profession.” 

–Jamie Baker
Executive director,
The Martin Institute

“Often because you are adult learners, you are supported by your school that hired you,” Baker added. “But schools are very busy places, and you are expected to ramp up to get with it really soon. … We want to create a safe, supportive environment where it’s normal to have questions and not know how to do things.”

Like other professional development programs at The Martin Institute, the New Teacher Network is geared toward public- and private-school teachers in the area, but the institute also maintains a national contact list. It comes with a cost, but there are scholarships. The first two applicants for the network sessions were from Chattanooga.

“We always work with a diverse audience. We are not really interested in supporting ‘X schools’ or ‘Y schools.’ We’re into supporting teachers – the professionalism of teachers,” she said. “If we can create pathways for cross-pollination between school systems – if you’ve got a newly forming culture at one school and we can introduce them to a school that’s got a really highly evolved culture and learn tips that way – we think that’s what the beauty of bringing a diverse audience together does.”

There is another intersection that is open to those in the New Teacher Network as well as others outside the network. It is the Harvard Project Zero conference being held Feb. 12-14 at The Martin Institute, on the campus of Presbyterian Day School in East Memphis.

Project Zero trains teachers in methods and protocols that emphasize inquiry and critical-thinking skills at a higher level and across subjects.

PDS has worked for a decade with Harvard on the project. Ninety percent of PDS teachers have received Project Zero training on the Harvard campus.

The Martin Institute has sent a dozen teachers to Harvard in the past three years for the experience.

The $100,000 scholarship fund for the Memphis Harvard Project Zero conference went fast. It is already allocated, though Baker said the institute is looking for other donors to allow more teachers to attend and is also taking names for a waiting list.

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