Teacher retention needs new approach, bigger investment

With 20 percent of new teachers leaving the classroom after only three years on the job and 50 percent heading out the door after five years, many of America's school districts are going to have to change the way they work with teachers if they hope to fill the 2.7 million teaching slots the U.S. Department of Education estimates will need to be filled by 2009. But as states -- including Ohio -- look for practices that will encourage bright men and women to enter the teaching profession and keep them in the districts that recruit them, there's no need to reinvent the wheel. The research has already been done, but implementing the findings won't come cheap.
Of course, some teachers leave a school district because of a changed family situation, a better teaching job elsewhere, disability or retirement. There may be little a district can do about those.
Wrong choices: Other teachers leave the profession because after a short time on the job they realize that education is not for them. Better they should leave early in their careers than subject thousands of students to their antipathy toward teaching. But even if a school district is ultimately better off, taxpayers still lose the funds invested in the education, recruitment, employment and professional development of that teacher.
Obviously, colleges of education must fight the urge to expand enrollment for the sake of budgetary dollars, to focus instead on enrolling the best and most dedicated students to teaching and then providing them with training appropriate to the schools in which they're likely to teach.
Many new teachers complain that they just weren't ready for the hefty dose of reality that challenged their idealistic expectations.
More and more states are requiring that novice teachers receive special attention in their first two years to help them bridge the gap between college and the job. Beginning in 2002, new teachers in Ohio will be required to successfully complete an & quot;entry year & quot; program to become fully certified.
Yet providing the funding for these programs won't be easy. A proposed program in Texas will cost $2,500 per teacher. Expensive, yes, but the cost of replacing those teachers is far greater. However, expecting local districts to pick up the tab is unrealistic so long as school funding is derived from property taxes.
Brain drain: But beyond those disillusioned or ill-prepared new teachers, every year thousands of highly effective teachers give up on their dreams of educating children because of comparatively low wages, lack of administrative and parent support and/or demoralizing working conditions.
The value of the professional educator must be recognized and appreciated at every level -- from state legislatures to school boards, from the business community to children's homes. Where adversarial relationships exist, teacher morale sags. Salaries have to be competitive with those in other professions. Teachers should not have to purchase school supplies their districts either cannot or will not provide. Nor should they have to fear for their safety.
Changing the face of education in America will require increased state and federal support. And those who argue that "throwing money at the schools" won't improve education make as much sense as anyone who would foolishly insist that "throwing money at medical research" won't help find cures for diseases.
Further, there's no going back to the mythical good old days when teachers had no lives outside the classroom, students were motivated and well-behaved and moms were waiting with milk and cookies when the kids cheerfully walked home from their neighborhood school.
The nation has changed, the world has changed, and education must change. The United States cannot solve the problems and address the needs of the 21st century with solutions from the past. The hands of time do not move in reverse.

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