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Amid intense debate about new education standards, and teacher tenure and pay, the Alliance for Excellent Education has turned the focus to new teachers – and their tendency to quit.

A new report, published by the Alliance in collaboration with the New Teacher Center (NTC), a non-profit that helps schools and policymakers develop training for new educators, found that about 13 percent of the nation’s 3.4 million teachers move schools or leave the profession every year, costing states up to $2 billion. Researchers estimate that over 1 million teachers move in and out of schools annually, and between 40 and 50 percent quit within five years.

Teacher retention
Katie Bonfiglio, a 9th grade English Teacher at Arlington High School. (Michelle Pemberton/The Star)

The high turnover rates are sometimes due to layoffs, “but the primary reason they leave is because they’re dissatisfied,” said Richard Ingersoll, an education professor at the University of Pennsylvania whose research on teacher retention was published in the report. Teachers say they leave because of inadequate administrative support and isolated working conditions, among other things. These losses disproportionately affect high-poverty, urban and rural schools, where teaching staffs often lack experience.

A Consortium on Chicago School Research (CCSR) report found that schools serving low-income, minority students turn over half of their staffs every three years, deepening the divide between poor and wealthy students to the most experienced teachers.

But the new report says poor retention isn’t a commitment problem. It’s a support problem.

A National Center for Education Statistics survey found a correlation between the level of support and training provided to new teachers and their likelihood of leaving after the first year. So the Alliance and NTC have concluded that new teachers need more on-the-job training and mentor programs for the first two years that’s designed to keep them in the profession.

Called “comprehensive induction,” the training should include a high-quality, pre-screened mentor who is an experienced teacher, common planning time with other teachers, regular and rigorous training, and ongoing contact with school leaders, like principals and district officials, according to the NTC and Alliance report.

Ingersoll says studies prove these programs work, but that the quality of them is inconsistent across schools, districts, and states.

“It’s no surprise that reforms centered around induction and support for beginning teachers has become a trend,” said Ingersoll.

The report suggests that these mentorship programs be required for new teachers to earn full licensure, and stresses the importance of schools giving mentor teachers time and compensation to support novice teachers. It also recommends regular evaluations of new teachers, school-wide analysis of teacher learning conditions and environment, and district responsibility to distribute effective teachers evenly across schools.

“It’s way more than giving them a mentor,” said Ellen Moir, founder of the NTC.

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  1. “The report suggests that these mentorship programs be required for new teachers to earn full licensure, and stresses the importance of schools giving mentor teachers time and compensation to support novice teachers. It also recommends regular evaluations of new teachers, school-wide analysis of teacher learning conditions and environment, and district responsibility to distribute effective teachers evenly across schools.”…Has any of these researchers actually been a teacher? Much less in super challenging classrooms? A new teacher needs a good education themselves before teaching and not to be hazed. Many times new teachers are loaded with classroom makeups to “test” them. That kind of thinking and practice is unacceptable. Additionally, teachers in the U.S. spend more time with students than in many other nations. New and seasoned teachers alike need teaching hours cut and those hours used for planning, grading, and preparation. They don’t need more meetings, more hours added, or to be treated as if they are unintelligent. They need school boards and principals willing to send clear messages and keep high standards of learning and behavior with students and parents. No teacher needs administrators and politicians bashing them or scared of dealing with parents.

  2. Over at the Center for Teaching Quality (CTQ) Collaboratory, teachers from around the world have been discussing this topic too ( In my state, lack of administrative support has been the number one reason for teachers leaving schools. While I applaud the efforts of the Alliance, NTC, and others who are working to improve the quality of mentoring, somebody needs to be taking a really serious look at the quality of our school administrators and district policies that make it unnecessarily more difficult for teachers to do our work.

  3. Taught 35 years and never saw a teacher quit. Many were let go due to budget cuts however. Doubt that that was included in this “study”.

  4. New teachers leave schools in high needs (poverty) areas much more often because teaching in those schools can be very demanding and stressful. There are rewards, but it is a much tougher row to hoe than teaching in a middle class school. It’s time to recognize that reality.

  5. 35 year veteran, now retired: I saw a lot of my younger colleagues leave over the years– I started in the 70s when my mentor colleagues had all begun in the 40s in one-room schools. These of course were the survivors who were still around, mostly superb educators who had seen it all and done most of it. Learned everything I could from several of them.

    By the time I was done I was a paid mentor for younger colleagues entering the profession–kind of hit or miss, but again most of them were super individuals. The one change I experienced more than any other? The EXIT from the profession of those who never wanted to teach in the first place, mostly women who’d become teachers in the 1940s thru 1970s partly because they wanted a professional job but didn’t like bodily funds (nursing). They had to be super pioneers to become something other than a nurse or teacher, & some got stuck in a career they really didn’t like. Those people slowly disappeared from the schools where I worked, & it was laughable that kids still picked out a “mean teacher” to be mad at. (You know, the type that doesn’t give out candy very often. )

    Why do other teachers leave ? From what I saw the two main reasons were 1) disenchantment with the realities of classroom life– it’s not as fun as it looks to a student, and it can get pretty repetitive if you’re not creative. 2) the typical life of a young wife, i.e. she moves to follow her husband’s career: Yes it still happens a lot, or she takes maternity leave to start a family and doesn’t come back.

    Burnout? yes, saw a bit but a lot of burnout is experienced by those who cannot leave & for whatever reason they feel trapped in their deadend job.

  6. I saw 15 teachers leave or transfer to another school in my first year at a new campus. It was a very high rated elementary school in a very affluent neighborhood. The exodus was due to poor leadership. Teachers felt they were not being supported and heard by the principal. Changes were fast and furious. Despite having some of the highest scores in the school and a very cutting-edge curriculum, pressure was put on me to leave too. I did not allow this to get to me, and flourished in the midst of the chaos. Looking back ten years later, I learned a lot about what the principal was trying to accomplish, and I do see that side of the equation. I just wish the the teachers who left could shave been spared. They were excellent teachers. Sometimes we allow offense to destroy us rather than to forgive the rough edges of another and continue to grow from challenging situations.

  7. I believe teachers leave because they are not allowed to think for themselves. They have to learn the pages of highly scripted, abstract standards and come up with lessons that fit those standards. They have to create objectives and rationales that adhere to the vision of what some entity has decided kids must do. This is exactly the opposite of what should happen. Teachers need to go into a classroom and get to know their students, diagnose their level of education, and start teaching from there. I can tell you I’ve been given 4th grade classes with children who were at a kindergarten level. I was told to deal with it. The school should have age appropriate materials for the teacher to use. The first year I went in, I had no materials, no room. I’ve lasted because every year I told myself–“Oh, this year was an anomaly. It’ll get better. 25 years. It hasn’t gotten better. Nothing has stayed the same. New initiatives are constantly rolled out and abandoned. And this year, with the pandemic, I think I finally know what the problem is. There’s no leadership. There’s no flexibility, no creativity coming from the mandators who make the tests, rubrics, and standards. They don’t know how to function without those things. They are so without a clue that they just wanted to reopen the schools in the middle of the pandemic and just keep going as before with the testing and evaluations. They have lost total touch with the soul of education.

  8. I was a first-year math teacher at a rural high school in Fall 2016, excited about getting my own classroom and finally being able to start teaching and guiding my own set of students. I was ready to quit after the first semester, but forced myself to get through the school year. Why was it so bad? The classes: First-year teachers should not be given the tough classes. As all administrators should know, there are easier class and student combinations than others. Being a first-year teacher is hard enough. Assigning the difficult classes to newbies, while expecting miracle performance and outcomes, is too much to ask of a first-year teacher. The students: Most rural students and their parents don’t care about learning math and I heard about it from them often and was treated with large disrespect every day. Good advice on how to manage such behavior would have helped immensely. The support: I did not need lectures and presentations telling me what best pedagogical practices were. I had just had years of that at a university. What I needed was one-on-one detailed low-level support. I was too new to know what was going well, what wasn’t, what would lead to long-term problems, and what was/wasn’t typical/acceptable behavior in a classroom. I needed someone to look closely at how I was managing classroom time, homeworks, grading, and gradebook. I needed the person who asked pointed questions that might have made trouble areas come to light before they became chronic problems. And I needed that person to help provide acceptable solutions when, at that time, most of what I could see were problems without solutions. The administration: High level guidance was there, but what I needed was help applying that to my situation. It’s analogous to a teacher telling the students to learn the math by studying hard. Where’s the scaffolding there? I needed administration to see me where I was and to guide me to a better path, one manageable step at a time. Oh, and basing a teacher evaluation on one randomly chosen day of classroom observation should not be done. The morals (or lack thereof): The student cheating was rampant and the administrative and peer pressure to pass students through it all was surprising and disheartening. In the end, I saw no way that I could have satisfactory success where I was working and quit after the school year ended. I have not taught children in a secondary school since then.

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