It is not a myth that a large number of teachers leave the profession early in their careers.
More than 41 percent of new teachers leave teaching within five years of entry, according to a recent report titled Seven Trends: The Transformation of the Teaching Force by Richard Ingersoll, Lisa Merrill, and Daniel Stuckey.
While much has been written about new teacher induction and the value of mentoring, not as much documentation exists about systematized support throughout the first five years of a teacher’s career. Follow these five steps to increase teacher retention:
#1. Hire the Right Teachers
A more thorough hiring process can lead to the selection of teachers who will stay in a school and district. Use information-rich job advertisements and interviews to provide candidates with the background and all requirements of the job, and to outline the specifics of the challenges. Longer interviews with more candidates, and the use of multiple sources of information, are more likely to lead to the right match.
In addition to interviews completed by human resources staff and a principal, consider training classroom teachers to be involved in the interviewing process.
#2. Include Continuous Professional Development
Once hired, new teachers need to participate in an induction program that shelters them from the demands of the job. An induction program that has three parts—orientation, mentoring, and ongoing professional development just for new hires—provides the umbrella that shelters new educators.
Make orientation before the arrival of students very interactive and include time to work in the classroom with a mentor. Mentoring provides the new teacher with a guide, a sounding board, and an ally who is down the hall. Keep in mind that mentoring needs a curriculum, and month-by-month guidelines are useful for both the mentor and the protégé.
Most districts do mentoring for one year, but the key is the continuation of mentoring support over the first five years. How might mentors work with teachers over a five-year time frame? Can teachers with three to five years of experience become “junior” mentors for other new teachers? Would it be good for a new teacher to have a veteran mentor and a junior mentor, and to then help mentor someone else fairly quickly? This idea of a circle of mentors could be a workable support system that diminishes feelings of teacher isolation. The key may be asking teachers how they want mentoring to work, and then establishing guidelines for the school and/or district’s mentoring program.
The third step of induction is to provide ongoing professional development for new teachers that is specific to their needs. A survey of new hires can provide insight into what they want to attend and which topics they feel a need to study.
New teachers often feel completely overwhelmed with their duties, and adding seminars may seem like more work, and stress, than help. If once a week is too often to meet, try monthly meetings, and ask the new teachers for input about times and dates.
#3. Use Mentors to Provide Feedback
For decades, supervision and evaluation of teachers tended to employ the “gotcha” approach, where administrators came into classrooms unannounced and pointed out deficits in the teacher’s work. Clinical or collegial supervision can be more supportive and still produce the desired result of improved teacher effectiveness.
The use of trained mentors to observe and provide nonevaluative feedback to new teachers is valuable. A mentor should discuss the ongoing classwork with the teacher in a preconference, asking what the teacher wants for the observation focus. A mentor can record verbatim what happens in the classroom and can discuss the class in a postconference. Guidelines must be clear about whether or not a mentor reports the observation data to anyone for evaluation purposes.
Be sure there is always transparency in the evaluation process. New hires need to see the district’s evaluation forms, participate in orientation, and be informed on the tenure process.
Additionally, a teacher in years two through five may want to observe and give feedback to a new hire. A recent new hire who has just survived a year or two can be invaluable to the first-year teacher. Young teachers want to help others, and a new hire may feel less intimidated by another young colleague.
#4: Understand Millennials
Administrators also need to know about the generation of new teachers they are hiring. Obviously every new teacher does not fit all of the rhetoric written about millennials, but some generalizations may be worth considering. If, as Joel Stein wrote in 2013, “Millennials are interacting all day, but almost entirely through a screen,” then the district needs strong online resources ready for those teachers.
Research says millennials are “earnest and optimistic,” but this means that their expectations will need to be met for workplace quality. This generation of teachers wants to network and have input. Let them, if they are to stay in the classroom more than five years.
#5. Provide Leadership Opportunities
While many new teachers are just surviving, others actively seek an avenue to truly make a difference. Teachers who have been active in social organizations on campus, and those for whom volunteer work has been ongoing since high school, may need to become leaders to find fulfillment in teaching.
Teacher leader opportunities can begin with invitations to speak at induction seminars, to lead a book study, or to be on the welcome committee for the newest hires. It is important to not overload new teachers with extra work, but leadership opportunities provide a sense of growth and fulfillment that may make the difference in retaining them.
To ease the revolving door of hiring, building support systems for teachers during their first five years may be critical. The implementation of improved hiring, sustained induction practices, supportive supervision, positive workplaces, and leadership opportunities can be solutions to keeping strong teachers in schools.
Mary Clement is a professor of teacher education at Berry College in Mount Berry, GA.