Battling teacher dropout, Paul Simon style

Before we gorged ourselves in the land of turkey and gravy at Thanksgiving, my blog delved into the messy and somewhat neglected topic of educator burnout. This spurred some great dialogue around teacher retention and got my gears whirling to identify solutions.

I want to preface by making the claim that as a nation we must spend more of our time, energy, resources, and brainpower on this topic. We have a serious teacher dropout problem which is a catalyst to many of our other woes in the realm of education policy. Want proof? My colleague Sandy Merz, teacherpreneur at the Center for Teaching Quality, pointed out recent data that the greatest number of teachers in public education are currently in their first year on the job. That’s right…the recent mode of teaching experience is a whopping one year (gasp!?!!).  Add the financial impact on top: it costs on average $11,000 to replace a teacher and the annual national cost of teacher retention is (you might want to sit down) is approximately $5.8 billion. Not to mention the impact on our students. Yowzers.

So, to the tune of Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave your Lover,” I’d like to begin to offer some ways to combat this retention crisis with research-based lyrics inked by yours truly, “50 Ways to Combat Attrition.” (Preface: It’s only seven, but it’s a mighty seven and a great start!)

  1. A latticework of choices for our career, my dear. I’m excited for the movement here, with research from the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY), the Center for Teaching Quality, and others. We have to build on this momentum and build options for educators that are beyond moving into administration. I loved my job as a teacherpreneur last year, which offered me the chance to lead without leaving the classroom (read more on my year here).
  2. Differentiated compensation for our job, Bob. Actually this was from commenter @Brad. And he brings up a good point. Read more on compensation structures for mastery and merit here, developed by a team of accomplished teachers from across the nation. I think it’s fair to ask to be paid differently for our hard work, expertise, skills, experience, results, and hours. I think of all the specializations in medicine as an example of this…
  3. Support from our admin, Ben. Boyd et al. (2011) found that great administrators matter, and I can “second that emotion” from personal experience. Administrators can support us and offer us shelter from the slew of policies and mandates that fall our way, giving us the ability to concentrate on our students in the classroom. I love the quote Sandy Merz mentioned from his principal who asked: What can I do so you love your job? That’s what I’m talking about!
  4. Collaboration we adore, Lenore. Teaching can be an isolating profession, especially when you are in the trenches and up to your tired eyeballs with classroom and school responsibilities, student needs, and paperwork. I know the CTQ Collaboratory and the Teaching Channel have been saving graces for me, working as springboards for collaboration with teachers and education supporters across the nation. Commenter and blogger Angie Miller also brought up the necessity of collaboration within the walls of our schools as well. We need to work as a team to offer each other support, ideas, and teamwork that can be the lifeblood of our practice as educators (and we need the time and freedom to do it).
  5. Balance between work and life can be tryin’, Brian. It is so important for educators to allow personal time for family, friends, and self. This is a toughie but an important one, for happiness and balance outside of the classroom leads to increased productivity and effectiveness inside the classroom. Take a yoga break. Go for a walk. Don’t lose sight of the beautiful world outside our classrooms. Read more on ways to reconnect with your personal and professional mojo here.
  6. Induction systems that continue support, Mort. We need to offer our novice teachers continued support after the completion of university teacher education and through their first years teaching. The best proof I’ve seen? Get ready for this. How about a retention rate for newbies that has jumped from 72% to 94.5% (whoah!) with the implementation of such support in Hillsborough County, FL? Read more here (and shout out to my colleagues in Florida who are working to make this happen). Ingersoll and Perda have pointed out a 40-50% attrition rate during the first five years of teaching. Induction programs that support and develop new teachers combat this new teacher dropout rate, allowing teachers to “season” in the profession and develop into master teachers who can help develop stronger novice teachers themselves. It’s a powerful cycle. And it just makes sense.
  7. Freedom to do our job well, Michelle. (Soapbox moment coming.) One of the biggest issues for me is not the need for new policies, but the need to peel back existing policies. I want time. Space. Freedom to do what I feel is best for my students. As teachers, we are highly skilled experts, trained not only in content and pedagogy, but able to apply that knowledge to many students, assessing and diagnosing multiple situations at any one point in time. Scripted curriculum, curriculum calendars, time spent on needless paperwork, and a bazillion other policies (big p and little P if you’ve read Rick Hess) can cage our creativity and box-in our expertise. Give us freedom to do what we know is best for those amazing learners we are responsible—and accountable—for.

So colleagues, start brainstorming more with me,

And let’s set ourselves free.