In some areas of our country, finding great teachers is becoming harder and harder. There are many teachers retiring, fewer joining the profession, and new teachers who don’t last more than a few years. We will focus on the third group here to consider what can be done to help retain new teachers.
For starters, we need to determine why people choose to leave the profession. After giving four years of college to the degree, why would someone abandon teaching in just a few years’ time?
How Can We Keep These Teachers in Schools?
Research conducted by the Learning Policy Institute shows that around 200,000 new teachers leave the profession each year. Their research gives us five main reasons why people leave teaching: inadequate preparation, lack of support, inadequate salary, challenging working conditions, and better opportunities in other careers. School leaders have the ability to impact some of these areas more than others. Here are some ideas for putting systems in place to help new teachers so they can someday become veteran teachers.
- Support: In my experience, this is probably the number one reason for teachers leaving the profession—no matter if it is their first year or thirtieth. Teachers who don’t feel supported will look at the salary schedule and readily consider other career options. The hard part for school leaders is that support can look very different for each teacher. Some new teachers need support in classroom management and instructional strategies in reading. Overall though, teachers need support from school leaders with parents. Principals should be willing to sit in on meetings, respond to emails, or manage social media to help teachers. This support can also take place with other teachers in the building if necessary. Some new teachers don’t feel accepted or like they are part of the school team, so leaders must monitor this and keep in mind how to help support them within the building.
- Empowerment: It can be easy to overwhelm new teachers, so I always gave any new teacher, regardless of experience, a one-year reprieve from working on a committee or team within the building. This wasn’t a steadfast rule, but one that I tried to honor most of the time. With that said, there might be a time when newer teachers feel trusted and empowered by a leadership role. By allowing a teacher to lead, it can help them to build capacity and perspective for the mission and goals of the school. In a way, leading helps teachers learn about the expectations and goals of the organization.
- Mentors: This is a critical component for new teacher success. Principals and curriculum leaders have a role in supporting new teachers, but there must be positive connections with other teachers to help them in day-to-day issues. Multiple lifelines of support help anyone to be successful, so for new teachers, having several options for advice and counsel is a great idea.
- Age: New doesn’t always mean young—I think it's important to consider how to invest in new teachers of all ages. I have hired some who were 23 and right out of college, and I have hired others who had retired at age 55 and wanted a new career. Obviously, these teachers need very different types of support. And if they chose to leave the profession, they would probably leave for very different reasons. For the older teachers who are entering a second career, the feeling of isolation or lack of technology knowledge might be the support that is needed.
- Money: I stated earlier that the money issue is hard one to impact as a building-level leader. Salaries are negotiated at the district level, and career opportunities that are available in the area are completely out of the control of anyone within the school. But can leaders impact these factors at all? I have tried in the past to give teachers opportunities through coaching sports or other paid instructional positions in the district. This can help some—while it isn’t going to make up for the salaries of other careers, it can pay the bills for a new teacher on the bottom of the pay scale. Leaders can also be creative in other ways, like signing bonuses (if possible).
These just are a few of the reasons why teachers might leave, but there can be many more reasons for teachers to quit the profession. As much as possible, school leaders should try to ensure that structures are in place to support teachers’ success. This is always our mission—to support teachers. But new teachers need a different type of support that is more focused and differentiated. Hopefully by considering some of these ideas, schools can make sure that teachers keep teaching for many years to come.
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