A charter is written. The ground is broken. A new charter school is opened. Eyes gleam with the promise of school reform and the goal of student success. But will the school succeed without highly effective teachers? Research would suggest that the answer is no. So, how then do schools retain and develop teachers of quality?
To find some clarity on this topic, I read ASCD’s infobrief “Understanding and Responding to the Teacher Shortage” by Heather Voke, 2002. In this article, I found that sadly the teaching profession is compared to a revolving door. In high-poverty areas, the teacher turnover rate is often as high as 50 percent. Alarmingly, the most intelligent and effective teachers are often most likely to leave.
So what reasons do teachers cite for leaving their positions? According to this article, the majority do so because of job dissatisfaction, personal/family matters, and improved career opportunities elsewhere. Those dissatisfied with their jobs cited low salaries, lack of administrative support, poor student discipline and motivation, and lack of classroom autonomy as reasons to leave. Often new teachers are overwhelmed and do not receive the guidance and encouragement that they need. Although most teachers enter the profession for its intrinsic rewards-- helping children, making a difference, etc.—these seem not to be enough when they do not feel rewarded and appreciated by students, administration, and society in general.
Why is teacher turnover a problem? Every time new staff is added, they must be trained. For a school to be effective, a common goal must be established, and in order to get new staff “on board”, there is a cost—time and resources. Most importantly, though, student learning is directly affected. Many children need the consistency of a committed, effective teacher.
What can schools do then to retain teachers of quality? Here are some research-based strategies suggested by the article that I read.
1. Increase salaries for all teachers and develop differentiated pay scales that reward expert teachers and those who take on specialized roles and responsibilities (Johnson, 2000; Grissmer & Kirby, 1997).
2. Create high-quality induction programs for new teachers, require districts to offer these programs, and provide funding to support the programs.
3. Develop regulations prohibiting out-of-field teaching, implement practices that place experienced rather than novice teachers with the students with greatest need, provide new teachers with additional release time, and limit their extracurricular responsibilities (Goodwin, 1999).
4. Adopt policies that include teachers in school-based decision making. Increased faculty control over school policymaking, as well as greater teacher autonomy in the classroom, are associated with increased teacher commitment (Ingersoll, Alsalam, Quinn, & Bobbitt, 1997; Grant & Murray, 1999).
5. Grow your own teachers. Rural and high-poverty districts and schools should encourage graduates and paraprofessionals already familiar with the culture and challenges associated with those environments to become certified (Collins, 1999).
6. Encourage or require universities to develop teacher education programs that focus on providing potential teachers with the specific skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in schools with high turnover rates (NASBE, 1998). For example, require schools of education to develop teacher education programs that focus on the challenges associated with teaching in urban schools (Claycomb, 2000).
7. Implement policies that support reduction of class size and increase funding for quality resources, facilities, and materials in high-poverty schools. Teachers in such schools might be given additional preparation time, as well as access to additional professional development that focuses on the particular challenges associated with teaching in a high-poverty, urban environment (NASBE, 1998; Claycomb, 2000).
A school is only as strong as its teachers. It is vital that schools retain teachers of the highest quality so that true reform may take place and the ultimate goal of student success is achieved.