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Reversing the Teacher Dropout Problem


Reversing the Teacher Dropout Problem

Retain more of your staff by understanding their needs and helping them succeed. By Jon Andes

Each year, about a half million teachers are hired. School systems spend significant amounts of resources, in both time and money, to recruit, hire, and induct new teachers. Despite this expenditure, up to half of all new teachers will become “dropouts” within their first five years. For school systems nationwide, the costs of new teacher dropouts are substantial-- estimated at $2.2 billion per year. For students, this teacher turnover impacts the quality of instruction they receive. Since a major proportion of new teachers are assigned to high-poverty schools, the negative impact on poor children is continuous.

Solving the teacher dropout phenomenon is a precursor to ensuring the success of all students. To address the challenges presented by teacher dropout, we, as instructional leaders, need to understand the unique qualities and needs of new, millennial-generation teachers; discover the general reasons given by new teachers for leaving the profession; and explore the strategies that instructional leaders can take to prevent this from happening.

Who Are These Teachers?

In general, members of the millennial generation have three common characteristics that will impact their career as teachers. First, they are digital natives, who constantly use technology to communicate and to access information. This generation sees access to high-speed Internet and devices as a given. Second, they are team oriented and seek to solve problems by working collaboratively. Since birth, members of this generation have been encouraged to be part of a team—in play groups, sports teams, summer camps, and arts programs. Finally, they seek tangible achievements and feedback, having been the recipients of trophies, medals, and even participation ribbons.   

Why Do They Leave?

When researchers survey new teachers who have left the profession, three major reasons are commonly given for dropping out. First, they cite a lack of resources, including technology and classroom materials, and the time to plan and complete the many tasks associated with teaching. Second, these teachers identify a feeling of isolation as a reason for leaving, specifically, a lack of time and the freedom to work together as professionals to address and solve instructional challenges. Finally, they identify a lack of support by school-building leadership as a reason for leaving.

What Can You Do to Help?

The obvious solution to addressing the dilemma of new teacher dropouts is to make sure that the right person is hired. Assuring the right person is hired may reduce attrition, but it may not be enough to retain the best and the brightest millennials. By understanding the unique characteristics of this generation and the reasons cited for leaving the teaching profession, instructional leaders can identify and implement strategies to retain these new teachers.

First, providing needed resources is critical. The millennial generation of new teachers expects that the tools of teaching—including technology—will be available in the classroom to optimize their instructional practice. In terms of time constraints, school leaders can ease these by eliminating or reducing administrative duties such as bus or playground duty, providing new teachers with common planning time, and reducing class size. Additionally, school leaders can make a conscious effort to carefully choose which students to assign to new teachers, for the purpose of setting up the novice for a successful first-year experience.

Second, to combat a feeling of isolation, the instructional leader can assign the right mentor and place the new teacher on a collaborative team. Veteran teachers are often selected as mentors for new teachers but this may not always be the best choice. In addition to assigning the right mentor, the instructional leader needs to provide time during the school day for the new teacher and a mentor to plan and work together.

Third, to demonstrate support for new teachers, the building principal must make an effort to connect with them. This might include actions such as scheduling a regular bimonthly time to meet with new teachers and mentors to discuss needs, informally meet with new teachers for an after-school snack and chat, make informal visits to the classroom to acknowledge instructional success, and use e-mails to reach out to new teachers with positive messages. Most important, new teachers need to believe that an instructional leader is listening to them and is committed to enabling their success. 

As instructional leaders, we must remember that the success of a student directly depends on the person who is teaching him or her. As a nation, we cannot afford the cost of constantly recruiting, hiring, and training new teachers. The cost is too high in terms of both money spent and loss of student learning time. The purpose of the hiring process is to replace ourselves with a generation of educators who are prepared and capable to meet the challenges that the post-millennial generation will bring to the classroom. 

Jon Andes is a professor of practice at Salisbury State University in Maryland. He was superintendent of the Worcester County Public Schools in Maryland from 1996 through 2012. He will present a session at this year’s ASCD conference in Houston. See below for details on his session and the conference.

About his session: Recruiting, Hiring, Leading, and Inspiring the Millennial Generation of Teachers: In this interactive session, Andes will help participants explore the use of technology to recruit, hire, retain, inspire, and lead the millennial generation of teachers.

About the 2015 ASCD Annual Conference: The 70th ASCD Annual Conference and Exhibit Show will take place in Houston, March 21–23. The conference will feature more than 350 sessions. Topics include leading and inspiring school communities; developing your teachers, leaders, and yourself; and much more. Visit annualconference.ascd.org to learn more about how this conference can benefit you as well as the teachers and leaders on your staff.

Image: Media Bakery


I don't know about y'all but my school in Texas could solve all these issues relatively easily with funding. Getting that state funding when we are 49th in spending per student is the hard part.

"First, they cite a lack of resources, including technology and classroom materials, and the time to plan and complete the many tasks associated with teaching." We need funding for equipment.

"Second, these teachers identify a feeling of isolation as a reason for leaving, specifically, a lack of time and the freedom to work together as professionals to address and solve instructional challenges." We need funding to reduce the workload so we have time to plan together and problem solve with our teams.

"Finally, they identify a lack of support by school-building leadership as a reason for leaving." We need funding to reduce leadership workload so they can provide support.

Money's been thrown at education for years. Not the problem.

The money may be thrown at education but it doesn't get to where it is needed. I had to take computers disposed of by a local company and combine every 3 to 2 working ones so I could have "technology" in my lab. When you have $50 to buy room supplies, where is all this thrown money going AT?

Let's look at the real reason so many leave. They can make more money for less hassle in other jobs.

Since the discussion responses seem to focus solely on money, or lack thereof, I believe the reality of the issue starts with leadership and NOT funding. There is PLENTY of money for education; it just gets siphoned-off by well-meaning, but very often, incompetent individuals who have little to no experience in leadership in their attempt to do the right thing. This is evidenced by the frequent grabs at grants and incentives pushed by departments of education just so a school system can announce that they are receiving funds to improve education (NCLB, RTTT, etc.). Everyone likes to hear about progress, and the sound of getting more money certainly appears to fool the masses into thinking things are getting better. However, the naivety of the common tax-payer (who reads on an eighth grade comprehension level) has allowed the leadership sickness to spread like a cancer into two and four year colleges and universities as well.

This sick process begins with a politician whose only requirement for leadership is an established minimum age, a heartbeat, and a coffer large enough to become elected. Then it transitions to a fork in the road of trickle-down economics. First, it goes to those special interest groups who demand services from that politician and school system for specific constituencies under threat of legal action (and frequently winning in court because the law is clearly written) while simultaneously bringing no additional funding for that growing number of special constituent groups. The second fork leads to those business interests and departments of education who push for standardized testing to ensure the product at the end of the assembly line of public education is not flawed. However, businesses can’t comprehend that an educational journey is measured in years, not “shifts” of eight-hour time, and there is no acceptable “reject bin” when you are talking about children. Departments of education are so disconnected from the realities of the classroom by their need to please these business interests and politicians that they have become blind to the fact that the tests purchased from big-business as a “one-size-fits-all” assessment often do not even match the curriculums nor do they count as a graded component for any student yet, they are still part of a teacher’s evaluation: These tests steal academic learning time, divert scarce financial resources, and begin to establish a “have vs. have-not mentality” in public education whereby the most talented teachers will clamber for the safety net of already successful schools. This exodus results in the neediest of our students being taught by the least experienced of our profession. And, in turn, only acts to further encourage young teachers to abort our profession far too soon.

When it is crunch-time and the results are to be demonstrated, the money has been spent on lawyers (Public Laws, Titles, etc.), “consultants” (College research teams espousing the supposedly best practices and the costs associated with bringing this to the classroom), testing expenses (technology bought to provide internet connectivity for testing is not the same as investing in coding, engineering, or design system hardware and software which cost more), and “canned programs” (New Tech, I.B., etc.) designed so that an administrator can point the “Great Finger of Blame” for not producing results and still be able to retain employment with the school system as they “pass the buck.” Passing the buck has become an art form for these incompetent individuals so we now have RTT money going to Common Core initiatives in order to create administrator and teacher evaluative processes instead of using those funds to reduce class size or provide resources and upgrades to improve student performance.
Overall there is little regard to the ramifications of making a deal with the devil since the longevity of most superintendents (not all, as evidenced by Andes’ tenure) is less than the time it takes to see a grant program like RTTT to fruition. However, even in his home state there are issues directly relating to funding and the expenses associated with vendors… http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2014-03-19/news/bs-md-rttt-update-20140319_1_state-superintendent-lillian-lowery-common-core-education-department

Just recently, accolades are getting thrown on Common Core Testing results as an effective measure of college readiness by those same colleges who know from past experience that no-matter-what, ill-prepared students who take remedial classes are far less likely to complete a degree. http://news.delaware.gov/2015/04/14/delaware-colleges-say-smarter-balanced-assessments-are-good-measure-of-college-readiness/ This lack of preparation affects their reputations as well as their financial bottom-lines so these esteemed institutions of higher learning now chase the money up-front so they can formally admit students as Freshmen. This way, when the ill-prepared fail-out, the post-secondary institutions have a much better chance of recouping repayment for college-level courses delivered by college professors and they don’t get stuck in court trying to legitimize a tuition bill for remedial high school courses sent on a college invoice. Saving face by cutting off your nose, or finding out you just got a pig in a pole, the results are the same: learners suffer. If the truth were to be told; inadequately prepared students will NEVER complete college: thus the need for career readiness for the seventy percent who will not earn a college degree. However, failing out of college during a sophomore year sure sounds better than failing out of a high school remedial education course being paid for at a college rate.

In regards to teacher retention, clearly, we do not have a money crisis: We have a leadership crisis. Our leadership crisis is causing the collapse of educational systems all over our great country, and no amount of money is going to fix this unless and until, true leaders step up and take the reins so that teachers are provided the tools, resources and effective leadership that would provide them the confidence to remain in classrooms after they are hired. In the end, we all want what is right, but there is certainly a difference between doing the “right thing”, and doing the right thing “right.”

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