Teacher retention is a hot topic in education. For the past several years, the number of teachers leaving the profession has increased rapidly. A 2015 report from the Institute for Education Sciences, the U.S. Department of Education’s statistical wing, indicates that 17 percent of teachers quit teaching within five years of entering the field. This statistic is cause for concern for administrators because when teachers leave, it affects the schools and students.
Why Do Teachers Leave?
Most educators begin their careers both excited and apprehensive. First-year teachers face a steep learning curve, so it is critical that school administrators address these challenges to maintain a high teacher retention rate.
One of the most difficult realities that new teachers face is working in seclusion. After those first few days of school-wide meetings and get-togethers, a teacher retreats to a room of 20 to 40 people as the only adult. Many occupations involve working alone, but most offer unscheduled breaks to occasionally interact with others. Teachers must be in the classroom instructing and supervising for extended periods of time.
Working in seclusion like this is stressful. Managing the classroom, answering challenging questions and facing the pressure of high-stakes testing are just a few stressors unique to new teachers.
Further, many teachers lack essential resources. Sometimes there are not enough textbooks, copy machines break down, and white boards develop distracting stains. New teachers who enter a classroom without their own supplies may be in for a big surprise when they realize just how much school teachers provide out of pocket.
Why Is Teacher Retention Important?
There are several reasons why teacher retention is critical to school success. One is financial. Recruiting, hiring, orienting and providing initial professional development sap already-tight school budgets, especially in low-income neighborhoods. According to the Washington Post, replacing teachers carries “a national price tag of more than $7 billion a year.” In addition, unlike other professions, teaching positions cannot simply go unfilled. Finding the most qualified professional for each position is essential.
Another cause for concern is that inexperienced teachers do not have the same impact on student learning as their more experienced coworkers. Normal attrition rates mean schools will occasionally have a handful of teachers on staff with less hand-on experience than other faculty members. However, schools that lose more teachers are at greater risk than average schools. New teachers in high-turnover schools have to learn curriculum, become familiar with policies and get to know classrooms full of students without the benefit of veterans’ guidance.
New teachers who join schools in the process of reforming are also at a distinct disadvantage. New initiatives are common in education, but new teachers do not always know which of these programs are already in progress when they begin. Even if they are familiar with a particular program, they may not know how fast the school is progressing or where it is in the process. A group of committed teachers who come back year after year, work together on meaningful improvement plans and build working relationships is much more productive than a group constantly trying to get acquainted.
Teacher retention rates are poorer in underprivileged areas than in affluent communities. This leads to inequity in education. According to a report from the Washington D.C.-based Alliance for Excellent Education, “This high turnover rate disproportionately affects high-poverty schools and seriously compromises the nation’s capacity to ensure that all students have access to skilled teaching,”
Solutions to the teacher retention issue may lie beyond the classroom. Some administrators believe that partnering with higher education is one key to success. They maintain that pre-service teachers should experience the challenges of the field before they graduate. Prospective teachers who understand the stress and the demands of the teaching field are in a better position to face those challenges.
In addition, many administrators and experienced educators believe that carefully implemented mentoring programs are critical to new teacher retention. Although some districts claim that they mentor new teachers, these mentors are often simply point people who will help new teachers find the coffee filters or meeting schedules. A mentoring program must provide feedback and substantive support to be effective.
Finally, new teachers need somewhere to go when the stress becomes overwhelming. Conversations with good friends and colleagues are often sufficient for day-to-day aggravations. However, the long-term stresses of the profession cannot go unacknowledged.
When experienced educators are interested in assisting others, especially first-year teachers, the next step may be to pursue administrative or oversight opportunities. Earning a master’s degree in educational leadership is one of the first steps toward that goal. As master’s degree candidates, graduate students study how leadership positions at the local school level support both students and teachers. Although school leadership is not the only reason a teacher chooses to remain or leave, studies show that principals play a crucial role in teacher retention.
Learn more about LSU Shreveport’s Master of Education in Educational Leadership Online.
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