About the Author: David Goldblatt is the former superintendent of Saddle River School District in New Jersey. He holds a Doctor of Education (EdD) degree from Nova Southeastern University.
When we examine the facts related to teacher retention, especially keeping new teachers in the profession, hardly any of the recent information is encouraging. In fact, we have known for a very long time that there has been a crisis in retaining our nation’s teachers.
In fact, more than 40% of teachers leave the profession within five years. The Wall Street Journal reported that, per the Labor Department, public educators quit at an average rate of 83 per 10,000 teachers per month for the first 10 months of 2018. This is the highest rate of teachers leaving the profession since such records began to be collected in 2001.
But while this data isn’t promising, my experiences as a school principal and superintendent — as well as surveys and research I’ve reviewed — have me convinced that there are, in fact, strategies schools can employ to make a big difference for new educators. While there is no single solution to this challenge, there are concrete steps you can take to help.
How to Support New Teachers
Given the data around the number of new teachers leaving the profession within their first few years, it’s clear that efforts toward retaining teachers must begin as early as possible in a teacher’s career.
Site leaders need to be committed to supporting new teachers by providing direction and expertise along with their personal and observed experiences.
This approach includes four key elements:
1. Provide more than just feedback
Giving a new teacher the tools they need to improve their skills is a vital job of a supervisor or principal. Too often, administrators just tell teachers what they need to improve without providing them the time and resources to actually grow and work on themselves. The school leader must also identify necessary resources, provide time for improving teacher skills, and develop a plan for professional development (PD).
Without the opportunity to invest in themselves, teachers leave the profession because they don’t get the help they need to improve, resulting in a stressful and frustrating work environment.
In addition to working with new teachers to identify areas where improvement is needed, site leaders should:
- Create opportunities for educators to observe an expert teacher and creating coaching and mentorship programs
- Ensure adequate skill set growth and development opportunities via conferences, committees, webinars, etc
- Carve out the time for teachers to partake in the above growth activities, so they can improve their skills, bond, and integrate into the school’s learning environment
- Invest in a strong substitute teacher program so learning stays on track while new teachers build their skills
2. Take a proactive approach to hiring personnel
Many schools and districts wait until the last minute to focus on hiring teachers for the upcoming academic year. This is understandable — administrators have a lot on their plates while school is in session, and it might be hard to carve out the time needed to undergo a comprehensive evaluation of staff needs and candidate evaluations until summer break.
However, site administrators often know who’s going to retire/leave the system (and what skillsets they possess) well in advance of the end of the school year — and, as a result, the specific needs for the next year’s hires.
By being proactive about teacher recruiting and starting earlier in the year, you have a better chance of retaining teachers. When you actually have the time to recruit and evaluate candidates, you’ll:
- Tap into a larger pool of candidates
- Get to do a more comprehensive evaluation of a candidate’s fit for the position
This will help you avoid the undesirable situation of hiring a new teacher who isn’t the right fit for either the grade level or the subject area, which can result in unfortunate complications for the educator, their colleagues, and even the students.
3. Advance beyond traditional PD
When it comes to helping teachers improve their skill sets, schools have long offered various forms of professional development training. However, the reality is that traditional forms of PD may not be sufficient to meet your teachers’ needs.
Consider supplementing your annual PD offerings by providing teachers the opportunity to participate in conferences, webinars, and committees.
I’ve also seen schools have a great deal of success with professional learning groups (sometimes referred to as professional learning communities, or PLCs). You can use a common prep period or break to gather teachers to explore a skill or current methodology, but make sure that the topic/content is geared toward the broader improvement goal of the school.
4. Improve salaries and compensation
There are many factors that improve new teacher retention rates, and teacher pay is a key ingredient in improving retention and attracting quality candidates. Of course, this is an element that is probably out of your control. Still, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention increasing compensation as a tool that can help you retain your teachers.