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Retaining Good Teachers: What Keeps High-Quality Teachers in a School?

By The Room 241 Team August 28, 2013

By Monica Fuglei How Schools Can Retain Good Teachers

Last week’s piece “Why They Leave” covered many reasons that teachers leave the classroom and highlighted how retaining qualified teachers influences student performance. Because teacher retention is linked to student achievement, it is essential that those in the educational community work toward a goal of retaining the best teachers during their difficult first five years.

How to Keep Good Teachers: Give Them Good Bosses, a Supportive Culture and the Tools to Succeed

Educational policy researcher Robert Reichardt notes that one key factor in retaining teachers is the same as retaining any employee in any career: Be a good boss. While Reichardt acknowledges that principals are already tasked with a number of jobs, teacher retention in many ways boils down to leadership.

In a personal interview, one former teacher, now a successful businesswoman, spoke of the importance of a high-quality working environment, saying that her time spent teaching in a school with a dearth of good leadership had a significant impact on her and a lack of professionalism in her school led to her abandonment of teaching altogether. One change in the move toward teacher retention could be simply introducing teachers to a school culture of supportive and well-trained bosses.

Teacher Induction Programs: Keys to Surviving the First Year

In addition to the notion that teachers need good bosses, Reichardt points out that teachers must, as with employees in any other career, be given the tools to succeed. Many believe that high-quality teacher induction programs are a key component of conveying the tools of success to future teachers.

The U.S. Department of Education recognizes this and attempts to convey these tools to new teachers with its New Teacher Survival Guide. This survival guide covers several changes to teacher induction that could prove helpful to retaining qualified teachers. It highlights the work of Texas A&M’s induction program, which boasts a 100 percent retention rate for first-year teachers, which might be linked to their focus on key tools like classroom management, discipline, or communication and has a significant built-in mentor relationship. Because not every teacher enjoys access to these teacher induction programs, the Department of Education’s survival guide provides some very basic tools which can be helpful.

How Teacher Mentoring Benefits Novices and Veterans

While packed with helpful information, even the Ed.gov survival guide notes that it is no replacement for mentorship. Mentors and teacher coaching may have a significant effect on teacher retention. The article “Why Do New Teachers Leave? How Could They Stay?” by Elaine Simos notes that Professional Learning Communities — PLCs for short — have been a “boon to novice educators.” 

The intense focus on mentorship in these communities allows new teachers to discuss best practices with seasoned veterans and encourages all involved to improve their teaching over time. Simos cautions that certain qualities are essential for mentors and that these communities require significant buy-in, both in time and philosophy, but that they may be the key to retaining high-quality teachers and improving veteran teaching practices as well. 

Because teacher attrition is significantly higher in high-poverty districts, preparing teachers for the students they have, rather than the class they imagined, can also be essential to helping them stay in the field. A mentoring system like the Professional Learning Community or other mentorship program could allow for honest dialogue about the challenges of working in underserved districts and help new teachers thrive.

Creating a Community of Teachers

In districts without PLCs or mentoring programs, Ed.gov encourages teachers to reach out to their veteran colleagues. The New Teacher Survivor Guide highlights several individuals’ experiences that led to increased success and excitement about the career. Ed.gov warns that one drawback of discussions with veteran colleagues could be dealing with negative attitudes about the job or career exhaustion, but it highlights the overall benefits of such relationships, citing Luann Brazill’s experience working in a vacuum in her early career before realizing the vast content experience among her colleagues:

“I was fortunate to have chosen a career where I am surrounded by excellent veterans [and] professional mentors with a variety of resources and experiences,” Brazill writes. “I realized that it was time to ask questions, put my time and energy to better use for my students and myself. Today, I wouldn’t dream of beginning a new unit without inquiring about resources and possible models.”

Whether through a great leadership, supportive induction, PLCs and mentorships, or by seeking positive relationships with colleagues, it is clear that a key factor in teacher retention lies in recognizing that no teacher is an island, and that the teaching community is and should be just that — a community. 

 Monica Fuglei is a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Omaha and a current adjunct faculty member of Arapahoe Community College in Colorado, where she teaches composition and creative writing.

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