DA op-ed: 4 strategies to retain new teachers

David Goldblatt is the former superintendent of Saddle River School District in New Jersey.

When we examine the facts related to teacher retention, especially keeping new teachers in the profession, none of the recent information is encouraging. In fact, we have known for a very long time that there has been a crisis in retaining our nation’s teachers.

According to the National Education Association, more than 40 percent of teachers leave the profession within five years. The Wall Street Journal reported that public educators quit at an average rate of 83 per 10,000 teachers per month for the first 10 months of 2018. This is the highest rate of teachers leaving the profession since such records began to be collected in 2001.

But while this data isn’t promising, my experiences as a school principal and superintendent—as well as surveys and research I’ve reviewed—have me convinced that there are, in fact, strategies schools can employ to make a big difference for new educators. While there is no single solution to this challenge, there are concrete steps you can take to help.

How to support new teachers

Given the data around the number of new teachers leaving the profession within their first few years, it’s clear that efforts toward retaining teachers must begin as early as possible in a teacher’s career.

Site leaders need to be committed to supporting new teachers by providing direction and expertise along with their personal and observed experiences.

This approach includes four key elements:

  • Providing feedback, resources, and time for improvement
  • Taking a proactive approach to hiring teachers
  • Moving beyond traditional professional development
  • Improving compensation, if possible

Provide new teachers more than just feedback

It’s not the job of the school leader to provide only constructive feedback to educators. The school leader must also identify necessary resources and provide time for improving teacher skills and a roadmap complete with a plan for professional development for teacher improvement.

Giving a new teacher the time, resources and training to improve their skills is a vital job of a supervisor or principal. Too often, administrators just tell teachers what they need to improve, but don’t give them the time to improve or the resources to improve or their expertise in how to improve.

Read: The benefits of teacher collaboration

As a result, that improvement loop does not get closed — this results in teachers leaving because those teachers who have been identified as falling short in certain skills don’t get the help or the time they need to improve, resulting in a stressful and frustrating work environment.

So, in addition to working with new teachers to identify areas where improvement is needed, site leaders should:

  • Create opportunities for educators to observe an expert teacher
  • Ensure adequate skill set growth and development opportunities via conferences, committees, webinars, etc.

Provide mentorship and coaching opportunities

Carve out the time for teachers to partake in growth activities, giving new teachers sufficient opportunities to improve their skills and bond and integrate into the school’s learning environment with their fellow teachers. This is where a strong substitute teacher program can come in handy.

Take a proactive approach to hiring personnel

Many schools and districts wait until the last minute to turn their attention to hiring teachers for the next academic year. This is understandable—administrators have a lot on their plates while school is in session, and it might be hard to carve out the time needed to undergo a comprehensive evaluation of staff needs and candidate evaluation until the summer.

However, site administrators often know who’s going to retire/leave the system (and what skill sets they possess) well in advance of the end of the school year—and, along those lines, needs for the next year’s hires.

Giving a new teacher the time, resources and training to improve their skills is a vital job of a supervisor or principal.

By getting proactive about teacher recruiting and starting in the spring, you have a better chance of retaining teachers because you’ll actually have the time to recruit and evaluate candidates. You’ll tap into a larger pool of candidates, and you’ll get to do a more comprehensive evaluation of a candidate’s fit for the position. This will help you avoid the undesirable situation of hiring a new teacher who isn’t the right fit for either the grade level or the subject area, which can result in unfortunate complications for the educator and their colleagues.

Advance beyond traditional PD

When it comes to helping teachers improve their skill sets, schools have long offered various forms of professional development training. The reality, though, is that traditional forms of PD may not be sufficient to meet your teachers’ needs.

Consider supplementing your annual PD offerings by providing teachers the opportunity to participate in conferences, webinars, and committees.

I’ve also seen schools have a great deal of success with professional learning groups (sometimes referred to as professional learning communities, or PLCs). You can use a common prep period or break to gather teachers to explore a skill or current methodology—but make sure that the topic/content is geared toward the broader improvement goal of the school.

Improve salaries and compensation

There are many factors that improve new teacher retention rates, and teacher pay is a key ingredient in improving retention and attracting quality candidates. Of course, this is an element that is probably out of your control. Still, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention increasing compensation as a tool that can help you retain your teachers.

(A version of this article appeared on the Swing Education blog.)

David Goldblatt is the former superintendent of Saddle River School District in New Jersey.

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