Photo by Jill Anderson
When Ed.L.D. student Tyler Hester was traveling around the country looking for his third-year residency placement, he had three questions he’d ask superintendents and heads of human resources in the districts he visited: Are your teachers burning out? Are you struggling with shortages and attrition? I have an idea for a program, and I’m not at all sure it will work, but would you be willing to give it a try?
Almost all the leaders he met with said yes.
Not only did these meetings show that teacher burnout is a widespread problem, but it also showed that leaders recognized the need for a solution. “It was an initial sign there’s a real hunger to solve these problems and there isn’t enough out there that’s enabling districts to solve these problems,” Hester says.
As the founder of a start-up venture called New Teachers Thriving, Hester hopes to be able to support district leaders, teacher mentors, and new teachers as they handle not only the curricular demands of the classroom but the emotional demands of the job as well. He hopes to help teachers and leaders in education achieve wellbeing and cultivate resilience to help districts deal with increasingly pervasive and costly issues like teacher shortages and attrition.
“We provide educators with professional development, but we don’t equip people with the personal development they need to do right by their students and stay in the profession for as long as they are intending to stay…. There is a really predictable set of challenges that early career teachers face and what is so problematic from my perspective is that we do so little to equip teachers to handle those challenges,” Hester says. New teachers often find themselves overwhelmed with the variety of tasks they face in the classroom and struggle to prioritize these duties. Often, they struggle to prioritize their own social and emotional needs, putting the needs of their students first. While admirable, students do learn best when their teachers are present and able to be partners in learning.
The New Teachers Thriving Team: Crystel Harris, Akash Wasil, and Tyler Hester
As a former teacher himself, Hester knows the ups and downs first year teachers face. “After the first few weeks of my first year of teaching, I was overwhelmed, neglecting my personal needs, and doubting myself big time. By October, when my mom asked me how I was doing, I started crying into my pancakes at IHOP. Nobody should have to experience that,” Hester writes. He remembers that even making it to the grocery store to feed himself was a struggle as he focused almost exclusively on the wellbeing of his students. However, Hester powered through and was determined to use his experience to help other teachers succeed.
Hester has previously worked as a coach, led a teacher training program, and even put out an e-book designed to help teachers maneuver their first year. However, after entering the Ed.L.D. Program and working with Senior Lecturer Irvin Scott, Hester finally found the framing question for his work. “I asked the question: what would it take to transform the early career teacher experience in America, in particular, the personal experience that teachers have over the course of their first years in the classroom that cause so many remarkable people to leave a profession they might have otherwise stayed in?” Hester says.
Working with fellow Ed.L.D. student Crystel Harris and Harvard College student Akash Wasil, Hester has created workshops and curriculum that incorporate research and best practices in positive psychology, growth mindset, and socio-emotional learning to build community and support new teachers. This past fall, Hester prototyped the curriculum in Boston Public Schools and will be implementing version 2.0 this coming fall as well.
“I didn’t know what to expect in the beginning. But it’s really helped me… I built a community here, a nice little family,” one participant in the BPS pilot says.
Hester will implement the program in the Stockton (California) Unified School District this fall and is excited to see where it leads. The district, under the leadership of its mayor and superintendent who both have bold visions for significant and innovative changes to schools and the lives of teachers, is uniquely positioned to effect change in the lives of first-year teachers. And the enthusiasm for his program is clear: Over 270 educators have already applied to take part.
“If we know that 200,000 people every year are starting their first year of teaching and experiencing these personal challenges, let’s do something about it,” Hester says.
Read more on Usable Knowledge: How early-career educators can combat stress and build resilience — and what school leaders can do to help.