What are the best ways to support novice teachers?

Data from the 2018 Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) show that, as a group, novice teachers – those with five years of experience or less – tend to have a strong sense of social commitment and openness to innovation. But these positive inclinations may be thwarted if novice teachers are required to work in difficult environments and if they are not systematically supported. As is true for beginners in any profession, novice teachers need time, support and guidance to improve their skills. Providing novice teachers with adequate assistance and guidance in their initial years is key to developing individual teachers – and to improving teaching as a profession.

What would be the ideal working conditions for a first-time teacher? We would probably think of a nurturing environment that allows for enough flexibility to try different approaches to teaching and provides enough support to guide novice teachers in their daily tasks. Evidence from TALIS 2018 shows that novice teachers only sometimes enjoy such conditions. Even though novice teachers represent 19% of the teacher population across OECD countries, they are over-represented in schools with high concentrations of socio-economically disadvantaged students: 22% of teachers in these schools have 5 years of experience or less. Schools with large concentrations of disadvantaged students are best served by more experienced teachers, who tend to be more confident in their ability to work in challenging conditions.

Indeed, on average across OECD countries, novice teachers tend to be slightly less satisfied than more experienced teachers with their performance in their school (90% of novice teachers compared to 93% of more experienced teachers expressed satisfaction with their performance at school). Novice teachers also tend to feel less confident in their teaching skills than their more experienced colleagues do. For example, 78% of novice teachers feel that they can control disruptive behaviour in their classroom, while 87% of experienced teachers report that they can do so.

The pressures of working in challenging school environments could affect teachers’ motivation and willingness to remain in the profession. TALIS data show that, on average across OECD countries and economies, 22% of novice teachers, compared to 19% of more experienced teachers, would like to change to another school if that were possible. To avoid early attrition and encourage teachers to continue in their career, education systems and schools need to provide strong support to teachers in their first years of teaching.

What would such support look like? It could take the form of induction activities that smooth the transition from the theoretical knowledge acquired in teacher training to the practical application of that knowledge. On average across OECD countries, only 38% of teachers have participated in some form of induction activity. Nevertheless, a larger percentage of novice teachers (39%) than experienced teachers (34%) have participated in such activities.

Support could also be provided in the form of mentoring, whereby more experienced teachers assist and offer guidance to less experienced teachers. While a majority of school principals consider mentoring to be highly important for teachers’ work and students’ performance, only 22% of novice teachers have an assigned mentor, on average across OECD countries. Clearly, these results show that much more can be done to support novice teachers.

Education systems can help their novice teachers in several concrete ways:

  • Review how novice teachers are distributed across schools, with the aim of assigning them to less challenging working environments in their first placements, and encouraging more experienced teachers to work in disadvantaged schools. 
  • Encourage school leaders to help ease the transition of recent graduates into the profession, by providing the induction activities and coaching the new teachers need, allocating them to less challenging classes, making sure that their teaching assignments allow some degree of efficiency gain in lesson preparation, or pairing them with more experienced teachers in joint teaching arrangements.
  • Provide additional support so that novice teachers can work full time, but with a reduced teaching load that would be increased incrementally over the first years in the profession as the teachers gain experience.

Read more:

Photo credit: @Shutterstock