One of the biggest personnel problems plaguing high schools all over the country is how to keep teachers new to the job from leaving. According to the U.S. News & World Report, fewer than 70% of teachers new to the classroom are still working three years later, with another 20% dropping out of the career after two years more. Even those who take to teaching and wish to pursue it will not remain in schools where working conditions are sub-par and the environment isn’t supportive and encouraging.
According to a 2008 newsletter circulated by the National Education Association, the national umbrella group for many of America’s teachers unions, most instructors who leave cite dissatisfaction with the school leadership, large class sizes, lack of institutional support and low wages as the reasons why they don’t wish to continue teaching. And the fact that high schools are – as a result – seeing a constant steam of new faces doesn’t just harm students.
At a time when K-12 education budgets are tight, few schools can afford to spend additional money on personnel recruitment and retention. Yet with so much turnover, that is what they are forced to continuously do. A recent report from the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future finds that districts annually spend tens of thousands of dollars bringing in and training replacement for teachers who left not because they were underperforming but because they felt the schools where they worked were failing them.
Yet, the fact that something could be done to stem the tide of teacher losses is proved by the fact that there exist some districts – like an oasis in the desert – that are successful at both attracting and retaining talent. They do it by setting up mentorship relationships between new and more experienced teachers, acknowledging and rewarding those who perform well and changing the school culture to become more supportive of novice instructors. And the money they save on recruitment efforts is free t go towards changes that create better academic outcomes for the students.
Turnover rates at Somerset Independent School District and Southside Independent School District, both in Texas, dropped from 27 and 25 percent, respectively, in 2007, to 11 and 10 percent in 2011, according to the San Antonio Express-News. The improvement in teacher retention corresponded with changes in the district’s leadership, and in turn, its culture, theExpress-News reported.
According to Timothy Daly, the president of The New Teacher Project, people should not be too hasty to draw upbeat conclusions from high teacher retention rates alone. After all, the overarching goal of each school and each district is to provide a good education for its students and those schools that attempt to keep their retention rates high via their reluctance to let go low-performing teachers are hardly furthering that goal. Furthermore, in the long run, such an approach could do more and longer-lasting harm both to the retention rates and to the school.
“[Teachers] want rigor,” Daly says. “They don’t want to teach down the hall from someone who isn’t pulling [his or her] weight … and they don’t want to get students, year after year, who are half a grade level behind.”