by Dr. John J. Franey, CEO/Founder of Developing Difference Makers
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The high attrition rate for beginning teachers in K-12 education is an area of concern for school districts across the nation. Teacher turnover in the beginning teacher population is creating trouble for a struggling system that is in need of experienced, quality teachers. There are a number of factors that influence beginning teachers to leave the field of teaching, but the constant that they share is the void they leave behind them. A new wave of teachers must fill this void, which lessens the experience and expertise available in the K-12 system. Furthermore there is a substantial cost of rehiring a new teacher into the vacated positions.
In discussing the attrition problem, Ingersoll and Smith (2003) use the metaphor of a bucket with numerous holes in it; the bucket continues to lose water poured into it and the more water poured in, the more that is lost. Pouring more teachers (the water) into the system (the bucket) will not solve the problem of attrition. Ingersoll and Smith suggest that the answer is not to pour more water in, but rather to fix the holes in the bucket so the water cannot drain out. There are plenty of teachers being trained and hired that are flooding into the school system, thus the problem is not about bringing in more teachers, but rather retaining the teachers that are already in the system. However, this is a difficult task. Before the process of fixing the holes can begin, it is essential to recognize and understand the many holes in the bucket.
The high attrition rate of beginning teachers, those with between one and five years of experience, is not a new problem, but has received increased attention in the last couple of decades. Numerous studies have been conducted on the problem of high attrition rates of beginning teachers in K-12 education. The National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (2005) reported attrition rates of nearly 50% for teachers in their first five years. While myriad reasons are provided by teachers for leaving the profession including low salaries and personal reasons (e.g. marriage, birth of a child, family issues, accidents, relocation), two particular areas are of the greatest concern for they directly relate to the role of the school and the district:
Support Systems: The most integral support systems for beginning teachers are mentoring programs, beginning teacher induction programs, professional development programs, support from colleagues, and support from administrators. Support systems such as mentoring and induction create positive relationships for teachers that mimic the teacher education programs from which they are coming. National studies have shown that programs that help orient the beginning teachers into the school can raise retention 25% - 50% higher than schools or districts that do not have these programs. Developing and implementing effective professional development, mentoring, and induction programs at the school or district level are a necessity to retain high-quality educators in their beginning years.
Working Conditions: The working conditions in schools, as those in any business, organization, or corporation affect the health, wellness, and happiness of employees. The working conditions of a school include the actual physical buildings and classrooms, the school climate, class sizes, teaching workloads, student discipline problems, and teacher autonomy. Many schools and districts are attempting to address work conditions by providing greater amounts of technology for teachers, but the most crucial factor in studies is the actual culture/climate of the school. School cultures are reliant on the effectiveness of school leadership to develop a welcoming and supportive culture. Health and happiness of new teachers is of the utmost importance, for happier teachers are more likely to be a positive influence on the teachers that they work with.
If we return to Ingersoll and Smith (2003)’s metaphor of the water bucket, there is an intense need in education to repair the holes in the bucket before we continue to dump more water into the bucket. If the major issues in working conditions and support systems are not addressed by school and district leadership, then teachers will continue to leave the organization. The turnover of the teacher workforce means that there is a continuance of new teachers with limited experience, which can limit their impact on student achievement and learning experiences. The biggest problem is that these new teachers bring with them new ideas and strategies from their teacher credential programs that can help experienced teachers redevelop their own strategies, but if teachers leave too soon then this added value is lost. Teachers must be able to stay long enough at the school to have an impact, and to grow and develop in a supportive culture into outstanding teachers. It is imperative that school leaders work to develop and implement support systems for beginning teachers and to build welcoming school cultures, thus enabling teachers to make a difference in kids’ lives.
Ingersoll, R., & Smith, T. (2003). The wrong solution to the teacher shortage. Educational Leadership, 60(8), 30-33.
National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (2003). No dream denied: A pledge to America’s children. Washington, DC: Author.