By Benita Hughes

Could individualized coaching and support possibly be the missing piece needed for teacher retention? The Carolina Collaborative for Alternative Preparation (CarolinaCAP) candidates receive coaching support their first three years in the classroom. What a gift! Individualized support that gets to the art and heart of teaching.

In serving as the Berkeley County School District Coach, I support candidates, several school-based CarolinaCAP coaches, and act as the liaison for all things CarolinaCAP with school and district administrators. When initially thinking about the support candidates need, I am reminded of a quote from John Wooden, “A good coach can change the game. A great coach can change a life.” I reflect on this and realize — that’s it!

How can I impact their lives in such a way that they will want to stay in the profession, regardless of the daily struggles?

Building a relationship based on trust, commitment, and partnership is key. By the end of the 2022 school year it is clear to see the impact of coaching with each candidate. I am able to share my “teacher toolbox,” filled with both the art and heart of teaching.

The art of teaching includes ensuring all students demonstrate growth in the South Carolina Curriculum Standards by using best practices to demonstrate high-impact instructional strategies. Before jumping right into the nuts and bolts of teaching, however, I first establish the heart.

Each candidate receives individual time with me that includes an opening to the tune of: How are you today? How may I serve and support you in this moment? After we engage our hearts, we can tackle the art of teaching. Many of the candidates express their reflections about the impact of having a coach to call on whenever they need a listening ear. Sadaria Carter, a kindergarten teacher at H. E. Bonner Elementary shares, “My coach helped me boost my confidence to keep striving, gave me support and feedback continuously, provided a safe place for me to vent, and encouragement. Most importantly, she built a relationship with me.”

In an effort to close the teacher retention gap, one crucial piece CarolinaCAP provides is an additional layer of one-on-one support for every candidate. Coaches co-plan and co-teach with candidates. This model has truly opened my eyes to the needs of not just alternatively certified teachers, but all first-year teachers.

Berkeley County School District started this quest with six trailblazers in January 2022. By August 2022, we had 14 candidates, and as of August 2023, we have 20 candidates! Through continued growth and development, using the CarolinaCAP model that includes co-planning, co-teaching, and creating individualized support plans with each candidate, I believe candidate numbers will continue to grow in the future.

So, how can we devise a system of support to ensure that every aspiring teacher is recruited and retained in their respective district? The Berkeley County School District and CarolinaCAP partnership is a model that shows that individualized support can make a huge difference.

All candidates deserve support in both the art and heart of teaching.

Benita Hughes currently serves as the Lead CarolinaCAP Coach for Berkeley County School District. She brings over 20 years of experience in education to this role and earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education from South Carolina State University. Since the beginning of her career, she has held the belief that ALL students deserve a teacher who will have a lasting impact on their future.

This story is published as part of a recent storytelling retreat hosted by CarolinaCrED, housed in the University of South Carolina’s College of Education. Mira Education, a CarolinaCrED partner, facilitated the retreat and provided editorial and publication support. Learn more about this work and read additional stories by following @CarolinaCrED and @miraeducation.