New Teacher Conference at Island University Supports Early-Career Educators, Aims to Improve Teacher Retention Rates

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – As elected officials and education leaders continue to work to address the issue of significant early-career attrition among Texas teachers, a new one-day conference hosted by the College of Education and Human Development at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi sought to provide support and continuing educational resources for alumni educators who teach early childhood through sixth grade classes.

Nearly 30 early-career teachers put summer break on hold to learn new approaches to classroom instruction, strategies for creating a positive learning environment, and the value of self-care at the TAMU-CC Beginning Teacher Institute (TBTI).  

The conference, held June 10 at the Early Childhood Development Center at TAMU-CC, was spearheaded by Dr. Tracy Harper, TAMU-CC Assistant Professor of Reading, who launched a similar program at her prior institution. She joined the Island University in 2021.

“The main goal of the conference is to build stronger relationships with our alumni and our community partners,” Harper said. “TBTI provides us with the opportunity to stay in contact with our graduates and to provide encouragement and support during the early years of teaching.”

As recent media coverage suggests, teacher retention has become a key priority for local school districts and districts around the nation. Research shows most educators who leave the field do so within the first five years of becoming a teacher. According to the Texas Education Agency, the number of first-year teachers who left their school district or charter school after the 2021-22 school year is 3,918 – nearly 21% for all districts in Texas.

Some of the reasons cited in the 2016 report “Solving the Teacher Shortage: How to Attract and Retain Excellent Educators” by the Learning Policy Institute include inadequate preparation, lack of support for new teachers, challenging working conditions, dissatisfaction with compensation, and better career opportunities.

TBTI was designed this first year to support and cater to early career teachers teaching elementary grades as most COEHD graduates obtain early childhood through sixth grade teaching certificates with the hope of later expanding it to include secondary teachers. The conference attracted a wide range of Islander alumni working in 20 school districts across Texas.


TBTI attracts nearly 30 alumni educators in its first year

The inaugural TBTI hosted nearly 30 alumni early-career teachers for a day of continuing education and networking opportunities at the Early Childhood Development Center on the campus of Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi on June 10, 2022.

Three-time Island University alumna Dr. Margaret “Peggy” Lara ’98, ’01, ‘12, served as guest speaker for the event. Lara is a Curriculum Advisor at Haas Middle School in the Corpus Christi Independent School District and is the current president of the TAMU-CC National Alumni Association.

Lara encouraged participants to take advantage of as many opportunities to broaden and build on the foundational skill set provided by a college degree starting with TBTI.

“I want you to take notes, take pictures and absorb all your favorite ideas here today,” Lara said. “Then you’re going to turn around and apply this information and these strategies. Today, you’re going to get answers for many of the questions that you had this past year.”   

Numerous TAMU-CC faculty led presentations during the conference, including Dr. Kimberly Reinhardt, TAMU-CC Associate Professor of Education. In “Using Universal Design for Learning (UDL) to Meet the Needs of All Learners,” Reinhardt noted UDL aims to change the design of the environment rather than to change the learner.

“UDL is a framework to think about how different tools and resources can be leveraged to reduce barriers and support all learners to engage in challenging ways of thinking,” she told participants.

Dr. Adrienne Backer, TAMU-CC Assistant Professor of School Counseling, presented a session about trauma-informed teaching, which was nearly filled to capacity. Backer said Dr. Sandra Chafouleas and her colleagues define the four Rs of school-based trauma-informed care as recognizing, realizing, responding, and resisting.

“The four Rs are recognizing the signs of trauma exposure in our students, realizing the impact of trauma exposure – understanding where these signs come from and why, responding in a way that incorporates trauma understanding across all tiers of service delivery, and then resisting responses that may retraumatize a student,” Backer said.

Susana Valdivia ’18 has worked in Bastrop ISD as a kindergarten teacher for the past three years. For the Port Aransas native, TBTI was an opportunity to reconnect with fellow grads and give each other feedback on how the classroom experience can differ from scenarios taught in college as well as engage in conversations about real-life issues that students, families, and teachers are facing.

“For me, I really connected with the information I learned in the trauma-informed teaching session because I work with low-income families and children who take their issues to school with them,” Valdivia said. “It’s important that we recognize that we’re going to learn all of this together – they teach me as much as I teach them.”

To stay up to date on TBTI, visit