Back to School: Expert Tips for a Smooth Transition in the New Academic Year

Sep 8, 2023

4 min

Gary T. Henry

With the start of school now upon us, Gary Henry, dean of the University of Delaware’s College of Education and Human Development and professor in the School of Education and the Joseph R. Biden, Jr. School of Public Policy & Administration, is here to answer some common questions educators and parents may have.

What are your three biggest concerns about K-12 education going into this academic year?

I think the overarching concern for many K-12 teachers and administrators is creating a sense of continuity as children and young adults go back to school. The three big concerns that contribute to this issue are teacher turnover, school leader turnover and the number of long-term substitutes who are not fully prepared to teach in classrooms. These trends were already in place before the pandemic, but the pandemic heightened this crisis. For the last 20 years, we’ve seen a crisis in the enrollment in traditional teacher preparation programs. Between 2010 and 2018, we saw about a 35% reduction in the number of undergraduates who enroll in education majors across the U.S., but in Delaware, that reduction was 60%.

Teacher shortages are affecting every state around the country right now. What is the best way to address these chronic teacher shortages?

Chronic teacher shortages are a systemic problem, which means it’s largely a result of the system in which we educate and support teachers. We know, for example, that many alternative teacher preparation programs — where students come in with a bachelor’s degree outside of the field of education and take only a few courses in preparation for teaching — actually contribute to teacher shortages.

So part of the answer is investing in traditional teacher preparation programs and in financial aid. Our team at CEHD’s Center for Excellence and Equity in Teacher Preparation is working directly with Delaware students from motivation to pursue teaching, through recruitment into UD teacher preparation programs, through graduation from those degree programs and into schools within Delaware, whenever possible.

For example, our Teachers of Tomorrow program introduces underrepresented high schoolers to the field of education through an immersive, two-week summer institute at UD where they can learn about our programs, meet current students and talk with educators. In partnership with high-needs Delaware school districts and the Delaware Department of Education, our Teacher Residency program allows early childhood education, elementary teacher education and secondary STEM education students to pursue yearlong, paid teaching placements in Delaware schools. Overall, we find that 80% of the students we recruit from Delaware stay in our schools to teach.

What recommendations do you have for school leaders who are struggling with turnover challenges?

The first thing to do is to have a human resources professional conduct exit interviews with teachers who are leaving and for building leaders to pay attention to their responses so they can really understand the key causes of turnover in their school. In my research, I have analyzed exit interview data and I’ve found that teachers are often very straightforward about why they are leaving. The second step is to act on those reasons. And the third step is to constantly check in with the teachers. Ask, “how are things going? What can we do to help you address your instructional needs?” Developing relationships around instructional issues and the teachers’ work with students is fundamental to diagnosing and addressing issues before they lead to teacher turnover.

What advice would you give a brand-new teacher about to start their first year in charge of a classroom?

I believe that all educators should view students and their families for their assets and recognize that a student’s culture at home is an asset. A relationship with parents and students that recognizes and values the family’s culture allows you to unite with the family, unite with the student and give the student the confidence to take risks, to work hard and to want to come to school because that’s where they feel welcomed and honored.

If parents are interested in supporting their child's education, how can they do so?

I think the key ingredient for parents is working with teachers and principals to articulate the outcomes that they’re seeking for their children. It’s much easier to get everyone on the same page if you start from a position of common ground. I would also encourage parents to seek the person in the school system that’s closest to the issue. So if your child is struggling in math, reach out to your child’s math teacher first. If the teacher identifies other resources that may be helpful, then seek out additional support from the school principal.

Gary T. Henry has much more to talk about as the school year gets underway. He is available for interviews. Click the "View Profile" button to get in touch with him. 

Connect with:
Gary T. Henry

Gary T. Henry

Dean, College of Education and Human Development; Professor, Education

Prof. Henry specializes in education policy, educational evaluation, educator labor markets, and quantitative research methods.

Education PolicyEducational EvaluationEducator Labor MarketsQuantitative Research Methods

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