A number of studies in recent years have focused on the issue of early career teachers leaving the profession. There are many reasons why a new teacher might leave the field of education, of course, but the result is a troubling situation in which promising teachers give up on the profession before they have had a chance to fully develop their passion and energy into wisdom and expertise.

How many leave?
Richard Ingersoll’s 2003 report is representative of many recent studies: “The data suggest that after just five years, between 40 and 50% of all beginning teachers have left teaching altogether.”

Ingersoll’s study indicates that the teachers most likely to leave the classroom are those in high-poverty public schools. He also reports, interestingly, that “a number of studies have found that teachers with higher ability, as measured by test scores such as the SAT, the National Teacher Exam, and teacher licensure tests, are more likely to turn over (e.g., Weaver 1983; Murnane et al. 1991; Schlecty & Vance 1981; Stinebrickner 2001; Henke et al. 2000).” However, social studies teachers are less likely to leave the field of education than teachers of most other subjects.

What are the reasons for leaving?
Teachers’ reasons for leaving include such factors as school staffing action (layoffs, school closings, etc.), and personal issues such as family moves and health problems. Of those who list job dissatisfaction as their main reason for leaving, “most often link their turnover to low salaries, lack of support from the school administration, student discipline problems, poor student motivation, and lack of teacher influence over decision-making.” (Ingersoll)

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s 2005 Teacher Follow-up Survey (TFS) “the five most commonly reported sources of dissatisfaction were a lack of planning time (60 percent), too heavy a workload (51 percent), too many students in a classroom (50 percent), too low a salary (48 percent), and problematic student behavior (44 percent)…”

Combining the results of these and other similar studies, we see the following main issues emerge:
• Salaries
• Lack of support from school administration (including teacher influence over such topics as school-wide decision making, planning time, and workload)
• Classroom management issues (such as student behavior and motivation, as well as having too many students)

Regardless of the reasons an early career teacher may have for leaving the occupation, the result is a revolving door in which people decide to give up on teaching within the first five years. This results in regrettable losses for school districts, the teachers themselves, and for students. In terms of school cohesion and organizational planning, the school must continually spend its resources starting from scratch to train new personnel. The teachers themselves have spent considerable money and valuable time preparing for a career that they determine is not a good fit, after all. And, clearly, the quality of instruction suffers when students are taught by a succession of first-year teachers who, though they are filled with idealism, passion, energy, and sound training, have not yet developed the sense of confidence and expertise that can only come from experience.

What can help?
What can be done to stem the flow of teachers who give up too early? Mentoring and induction programs can make a big difference.  Another predictor of teacher stability is student achievement. Studies conducted by Goldhaber, Gross and Player - indicate that “teachers who have been shown to increase their students’ academic performance stay in the teaching profession longer and are not necessarily more apt to leave lower-performing, poorer schools.” Also, “on average, more effective teachers (as identified through value-added measures of teacher performance) tend to stay in their initial schools and in teaching.”

These studies are consistent with other research in finding that mentoring, collaboration, and professional development, along with experiencing success in improving their students’ achievement, can help novice teachers capitalize on their energy and passion, thus keeping them in the classroom.

What frustrations have you heard from early career teachers who are questioning whether they should remain in teaching?

What supports helped you through those early years when you wondered, “What did I get myself into?” and “Can I really do this?”

The Bill of Rights Institute’s Founders Fellows Program
The Bill of Rights Institute, of course, cannot address all the issues that are known to discourage early career social studies teachers. We cannot ensure higher salary, more supportive administration, or fewer disruptive students. However, there is an important role for the model of professional development demonstrated in our Founders Fellows Program for early career teachers, a combination of distance education and Washington D.C. -based experiences. In this pilot program available for teachers in select areas, we provide promising early-career teachers with three critical tools that will help them increase their satisfaction and effectiveness as teachers of the Constitution and its principles:
• Deepened academic understanding of the Founding through an intense focus on founding documents
• Coaching in best pedagogical practices
• Networking and fellowship with other like-minded teachers

In this second pilot year, the selected early career social studies teachers will participate in a year-long professional development program including scholarly lectures, discussions, and tours of historic sites of the Founding in the Washington, D.C. area. This program is intended to deepen participants’ understanding and appreciation of the American Founding.

Here are some comments from our Founders Fellows class of 2010:
• I got lots of new stories to add to the classroom, lots of pictures that my kids will love, and I started to think about the Framers as a whole rather than each man individually.
• This year will be my first teaching this topic so the stories and facts will be extremely helpful in my background knowledge.
• Before, I was afraid to use primary sources; now I can’t wait!
• I realized the importance of primary documents.
• I learned new lead-in discussion questions, different ideas for how to break down difficult writings for my kids.
• I recommend participation in this program. This was an educator’s dream. Being surrounded by other history teachers, going to the historical sites, with class lectures was a joyful experience!

The Bill of Rights Institute’s Founders Fellows program invests in promising early career teachers.  Professional development plus mentoring plus a strong focus on the Founding documents can help equip new teachers to find satisfaction in their career.

Posted in Staff Updates


2 Responses to “Stopping the Revolving Door”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by conconvos, Bill of Rights Insti. Bill of Rights Insti said: Stopping the Revolving Door – Free training for teachers to help them stay in the field. http://bit.ly/dYPQG0 [...]

  2. Michelle Griffes says:

    As a former teacher, I am well aware of the “revolving door” phenomenon that occurs with new teachers. Many of the reasons I decided to leave teaching had to do with the bureaucracy caused by student test scores. School districts and administrators keep changing their minds every week about how they want you to teach, and they do not allow new teachers the time to learn the basics. While I feel that holding teachers accountable is a must, we also must hold administrators and school districts accountable for assisting teachers in becoming highly-qualified.

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