Seeking Success with Students

New Teachers Can't Be Successful—and Won't Stay in Teaching—Without Help from Their School

The decade that began in 2000 will see massive teacher retirements and the need to hire 2.2 million teachers nationwide. The need for teachers will be even greater in math, science, special education, and in high-poverty schools. To attract talented new teachers to fill the shoes of those retiring, policymakers are proposing a raft of programs: signing bonuses, accelerated teacher preparation, housing assistance, scholarships, and more. Policymakers are also proposing financial incentives—like bonuses for teachers whose students' test scores rise more than expected and higher salaries for teachers who become mentors—in an effort to head off attrition of talented teachers, be they new or veteran.

Some of the recruitment plans make sense, some don't. Some of the proposals for financial incentives make sense, some don't. But what virtually all these proposals fail to address is the astonishing speed and rate at which newly recruited teachers flee their schools or their profession altogether: Fifty percent of new teachers leave teaching by the end of five years. Another 12 percent transfer each year; in high-poverty schools, the portion who leave or transfer is even higher.

Why are they leaving? Former Chicago teacher Leslie Baldacci gives voice to the gritty, discouraging realities that drove her and other new teachers from their schools. Susan Moore Johnson and her fellow researchers at the Project on the Next Generation of Teachers conclude that the poor conditions, lack of help in learning the ropes of teaching, and the unprofessional treatment that Baldacci faced are not uncommon—and are largely behind the high turnover rate among new teachers.

Johnson and her colleagues go further, arguing that we are amid a generational change. In particular, a huge portion of new teachers, like their peers in every other segment of the economy—and unlike their predecessors—do not anticipate remaining in their first workplace, or even their first career, for a lifetime; they see teaching as one job among several that they will eventually hold. Close to half of new teachers have already held one or more jobs—in entering teaching, they're seeking a new, more meaningful career. If teaching doesn't provide these new teachers with what they are looking for, they will move on.

So what do they want? Above all, to be successful teachers. And to do that, they need help—from administration, fellow teachers, and other school staff. According to their research, too often, they're struggling on their own. Further, Johnson and her colleagues find that teachers who get the support they need—both administrative support and real assistance in learning the ropes of teaching—are very likely to stay. As an example, see the story of Fred ("Fred Plans to Stay 'Forever'"). Teachers who don't get the support, like Mrs. Baldacci, are very likely to leave, either to a new school—or a new profession.

Providing that support ought to be at the top of every agenda aimed at assuring a high-quality teacher workforce in the future. There is no point turning somersaults to attract talented new teachers, if half of them just run out the door.

–EDITORS

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