Birmingham City Schools (BCS) started its school year with over 100 teacher vacancies. Increasingly, those vacancies are in the former classrooms of new teachers – 52% of new Alabama teachers will leave the classroom before their third year.

That’s why Breakthrough Birmingham designed Thrive Teacher Coaching – a cohort-based, professional development program for first and second-year teachers.

Cathy Clark, the Thrive Coaching Manager, remembers the impact veteran teachers had on her when she first started teaching.

“My first year, I couldn’t control the classroom. I didn’t know what I was doing. It took having good veteran teachers down the hall giving me feedback. But we’re losing the veteran teacher force. They’re leaving. They’re overwhelmed. They’re not getting the support they used to. Veteran teachers used to be the glue that held the school together.”

Cathy went on to be successful in the classroom, a retired BCS teacher of 29 years. She leads Thrive along with Andrea Johnson, a retired BCS teacher of 28 years. Now Cathy and Andrea are stepping in for new teachers as the veteran teachers they were once grateful to have.

“For Andrea and I both, it’s a passion. We really want them to be successful. We want teachers to love the profession as much as we do. We’re passionate about helping teachers find joy in a very hard job,” says Cathy.

Relationships, growth, and wellness for teachers


Thrive takes a holistic approach to professional development, focusing on three guiding pillars: relationships, growth, and wellness.

Cathy sees the first pillar as more than just relationships with students, “It’s also relationships with your colleagues, your administrators, with people from the district. What are you doing to maintain positive relationships? What are you doing to stay away from the negativity in the building? What are you doing to contribute to a positive culture and climate?”

A Thrive teacher’s growth, the second pillar, is nourished through observations and PDs (professional development workshops). Cathy and Andrea spend time weekly in teachers’ classrooms, providing real-time feedback on classroom tools and management. PDs are monthly, covering in-depth topics such as effective classroom set-up, norms and procedures, school culture, climate, and how to utilize AI.

The pillar of wellness is all about the teacher as an individual – from strategies for balancing time and responsibilities outside of work to breathing techniques to utilize in a stressful classroom moment. At its core, Thrive is about making teaching sustainable, and personal wellness is the root of a teacher’s sustainability.

Additionally, Breakthrough knows a teacher’s time is an increasingly valuable resource. Participants are compensated for the time the teachers commit to developing through Thrive.


Thrive’s unique role in addressing Alabama’s teacher shortage 


Teacher coaching does exist beyond Thrive. Schools have teacher coaches internally – Cathy served as one for 2.5 years after she finished teaching. However, the differences make a difference: Thrive provides neutral, third-party observations, feedback, and mentorship, an important feature for new teachers feeling unsure about school politics.

“It’s a safe place for new teachers to vent, to ask questions, to get information, to be coached, and to get really good ideas,” says Cathy.

When the school year begins, and a classroom doesn’t have a teacher, the next best step is often hiring a teacher with an emergency certification or a temporary license to teach that does not require an education degree or passing the Praxis initially. In 2022, there were over 300 emergency-certified teachers in BCS. Seven of the eight teachers in Thrive’s pilot cohort are teaching with emergency certification.

Thrive teachers’ stories of success


It is quickly evident that the emergency certification does not reflect on a persons’ potential for education when that individual is given the support and resources they need to be successful – because Thrive teachers are thriving.

Ms. Watkins, first grade Thrive teacher, was named Teacher of the Year at Hayes K-8 school in just her second year of teaching. Her classroom was also selected to be the room Governor Kay Ivey visited on her recent trip to Hayes.

Dr. Verma, 5th grade Thrive teacher, was published last month in TEACH Magazine, with his article “Bridging Content Gaps: The Importance of Vertical Alignment”. He also is the coach of Chalkville Elementary’s robotic’s team, who recently won first place at the CoderZ competition, winning against teams from across the country to win the national championship.

Stories of growth, success, and school-wide impact, like Ms. Watkins’ and Dr. Verma’s, can be found in conversations with any Thrive teacher. Cathy hopes that participants become not only happy, sustainable educators but also use their new resources to positively impact teachers beyond the program.

“We want our teachers to become the veteran teacher down the hall that goes to help the new teachers, so we can build back up our veteran teacher force.”

100% of Thrive participants have returned to the classroom this year. With its first cohort graduating from the program in December, Thrive is a tool for addressing the area’s teacher shortage, providing a cost-effective solution to the expensive alternative of rehiring replacement teachers. Your gift to Breakthrough can go toward continuing to grow this resource, ensuring that next year’s new teachers are met with the support they need to be successful.

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