Jeremy Britt has been teaching only a couple years, but his success in the classroom already is being recognized.
Britt, a first-grade teacher at McClure Elementary, was sifting through his inbox in May when he spotted an email that caught him off guard. The message was from the Teaching and Leading Initiative of Oklahoma, and it claimed he’d been nominated for its 20 Under 2 list as one of the state’s top novice teachers.
Seeing as he had never heard of the organization or the list, Britt didn’t know how to respond.
But this was no hoax. The same principal who encouraged him to become emergency certified because she believed he was a natural teacher also ended up submitting his name for 20 Under 2, which celebrates high-performing educators at the start of their careers.
“It was definitely affirming that I was doing the right thing, that I belonged here,” Britt said.
Twenty novice teachers from across the state are featured in the Teaching and Leading Initiative of Oklahoma’s inaugural 20 Under 2 list. The Tulsa-based nonprofit was launched in 2018 through a start-up grant from the Walton Family Foundation in response to the teacher shortage and seeks to help school districts better support educators in their first and second year.
The idea for 20 Under 2 came from a perceived dearth of recognition for teachers entering the profession, especially those with emergency certification. In many districts, beginning teachers are unable to qualify for teacher of the year.
One of the main reasons teachers resign — outside of low pay — is due to inadequate support, said Joanna Lein, the organization’s executive director. One of five new teachers reportedly leave after their first year, while only about half remain after five years.
Although there’s no award system in place for now, Lein said the list is all about recognition.
“Often our teachers who are new are really undervalued because of their lack of experience,” she said, “so we wanted to highlight that new teachers are getting it done, and they’re getting it done well.”
The organization received nearly 200 nominations from Oklahoma schools of up-and-coming novice teachers after details about the 20 Under 2 list spread on social media. A committee then narrowed the list to 20 educators who had a measurable impact on student achievement.
Before starting his teaching career in the 2017-18 school year, Britt volunteered at McClure through the Reading Partners program. The experience made him realize how much he loved being in a classroom and helping students reach their potential.
McClure Principal Katy Jimenez, in need of filling a vacancy, approached him about becoming a teacher after recognizing his abilities. The opportunity allowed Jimenez to bolster her staff and Britt to live out a dream he had only just discovered.
“I absolutely love it,” Britt said. “It’s a great experience, just building relationships with the kids and working with them on setting their own goals and celebrating their success when they reach those goals.”
Jimenez said she nominated Britt for 20 Under 2 in part because she was amazed at how quickly he learned the intricacies of teaching and leading a classroom filled with kids compared to most emergency-certified teachers.
He’s progressed faster, she said, than some with traditional certification.
“I thought it was really spectacular that someone who came to us in a nontraditional way was able to be so successful just out of the training he had from Reading Partners and his sheer desire to serve children,” Jimenez said. “He was just born to be a teacher.”
The number of emergency-certified teachers in Oklahoma has skyrocketed in recent years. State public schools hired 3,038 nonaccredited teachers in 2018-19, a 54% increase from the previous year. The state education board on Thursday approved another 818 emergency certifications, including 180 for Tulsa Public Schools.
Jimenez believes Britt and others who are emergency certified will be instrumental in stabilizing classrooms at McClure, which has suffered from a high teacher turnover since before the shortage.
She said she appreciates the 20 Under 2 list for recognizing the work of novice teachers and motivating them to continue improving.
“I think it really changes the narrative of what it means to be a successful teacher,” Jimenez said. “It doesn’t have to come 30 years in when you have a long list of accomplishments. It just comes with who you are and who you have chosen to bring to the table as your authentic self.”
Tulsa City Councilors offered a forum recently on the Equality Indicators report, which uses 54 equality measures that compare outcomes of groups likely to experience inequalities.