Four Lessons from Interviewing Local Educators

This is our final post of our 2022-23 series, ‘Meet Our Schools’, sharing the work of schools across center township uplifting the vision and mission for student success through the eyes of educators in the buildings.

By Michael Prihoda, Teach Indy Volunteer

I spent the last year talking to educators all across Indianapolis while volunteering with Teach Indy. Some serve at purposefully small, single-site schools. Others work at major charter networks. 

The educators I interviewed were passionate about the students they serve, emphasized the importance of feedback as a means of becoming a better educator, and desired opportunities to grow and flex leadership without having to leave the classroom. 

Here’s my four biggest takeaways from a year talking to Indianapolis educators.

  1. Teachers who receive robust support have a bigger impact on students.

The first point, and perhaps each of the other three that follow, may seem self-evident. Anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of how school works can probably see the connection between being supported with feedback and learning opportunities and delivering classroom impact. Yet I feel this is something schools overlook. Or else, when things get busy, feedback cycles and classroom observations are the first things leaders scale back on. 

Circle City Prep is leading the way in staffing for educator support with their lead/associate teacher model. “Having someone who gives me that extra boost to support all scholars at a high level is critical. We can give a lot more hands-on support,” said LaCari Gant, a kindergarten lead teacher at Circle City Prep. Meanwhile, their K-2 Senior Instructional Coach Samantha Hyde shared, “We believe anyone who puts in the work can become a great teacher; our model is proving it.”

Over at Adelante Schools, it’s clear that their diligence regarding observation and feedback cycles is paying off. They are also careful to protect teacher prep time so that professional development does not come at the expense of teacher preparedness and content delivery. Adelante’s literacy specialist Tina Cowan said, “I love that we protect teacher prep time while still making room for coaching and feedback.”

  1. It’s critical for administrators to stay close to the student experience

My conversations with educators at Vanguard Collegiate, a purposefully small 6-8 independent charter school has lingered with me ever since I spoke to their team last fall. Each of their administrators spend time giving direct instruction each day. 

Since its founding, Vanguard has built in time for administrators to teach classes and build direct relationships with students. This is also a way for Vanguard to grow the leadership of its educators without forcing them to leave the classroom.  

Bobby Thomas, Vanguard Collegiate’s Senior Director and 5-6 math teacher said, “Oftentimes, the higher you go in a school, the farther you get from students and the less informed decision-making becomes.” From day one, Vanguard Collegiate had a plan to make sure that didn’t become the reality for their school.

  1. Teachers desire leadership and growth that does not pull them out of the classroom

It’s apparent that schools need great teachers to stay in the classroom for as long as possible. But it’s not fair to educators when doing so limits their career development or stymies their leadership capabilities. 

We cannot blame talented classroom educators for jumping to administrative positions or leaving for other fields when they find themselves unable to support their family or feeling professionally unfulfilled. 

Paramount Schools of Excellence, one of Indianapolis’ premier charter networks, is tackling this problem by designing educator development around three pathways: New Teacher Academy, Administrator Track, and Master Teacher Track. The Master Teacher Track is the highlight here as it provides the school’s best educators a chance to impact other teachers and broaden their skill set without leaving the classroom.

  1. We must eliminate barriers to entering and staying in the teaching profession

Becoming a teacher is a difficult, challenging process. In some ways, it should be. Yet too many barriers to entering the profession remain, particularly for educators of color and those from low-income backgrounds. 

Christel House Indianapolis designed IndyTeach, an in-house apprenticeship program to license educators, to solve teacher recruitment challenges for their network. To remove financial barriers, IndyTeach apprentices receive a full salary, benefits, and financial support to pay for things like CPR certification, licensure fees, and Praxis exams. 

When it comes to staying in education, if the reasons explored in my third takeaway don’t drive educators away, burnout certainly might. But teacher burnout is not inevitable. Schools that see it that way imperil themselves. Herron Preparatory Academy stands out as a school that actively combats teacher burnout by emphasizing teacher-administrator collaboration and listening to teacher needs. 

It’s a small sample size, but across each of the two dozen educators I interviewed for Teach Indy this year, all of them, without exception, are in the profession for the right reasons. They care about kids and families. They strive for excellence. 

It’s far past time that society valued and supported educators. There are numerous things that government, nonprofits, and the wider community can do on issues like teacher training, pay, and recruitment. 

But you may have noticed, everything I heard from educators this year fell squarely within a school’s control. Schools can support their educators. Schools can offer leadership opportunities that don’t solely force their teachers into administrative roles. Schools can combat burnout and listen to teachers

Will they? That’s an open question. But I’m confident the schools that do will have no problem retaining a great staff and continuing to impact students at a high level. 

We thank the incredible educators who have shared their stories with us this year. We would also like to thank our Blogger, Michael Prihoda for his incredible work of capturing the powerful work of local educators this year.