Solving the Teacher Retention Crisis

The economic implications associated with the teacher retention crisis are huge. At-risk students living in poor neighborhoods suffer the most. The financial cost of the turnover has been estimated to be $2.2 billion a year. The costs are largely associated with recruiting, orienting, training, and developing new hires. Not surprisingly, 40 to 50 percent of new teachers leave within their first five years on the job. On a single school basis, nearly 20 percent of teachers at high-poverty schools leave every year. As we gear up for another summer at Practice Makes Perfect, these statistics remind us that we invest so deeply in our summer teaching fellows for the future of the teaching profession. We are currently on track to having a less than 10% acceptance rate for three years in a row. Unfortunately, making the selection process more rigorous is not enough to solve the teacher retention crisis on its own.

This past November, I engaged in conversation with other Echoing Green fellows and alumni about the current state of the education system. Although our experiences and opinions varied, we all quickly agreed that teachers are the most important individuals in the educational ecosystem.

And it makes sense for several reasons. Teachers are the first and last persons that kids see every day in school. What a teacher models, a child does. If we want better outcomes for our children, we need to give them better teachers. But what does better really mean? I don’t side very strongly with people who believe we are going to solve our retention problem by just giving everyone “better” teachers. What we need to do is better equip and support those who are currently teaching.

My conversations with my peers revolved less around how to radically transform the caliber of the applicants and more around how we can equip and empower teachers to succeed. Simply put, we concluded that if we could do these four things well, we would increase engagement, satisfaction, and retention. We are taking a bite out of this $2.2 billion retention crisis and ensuring that all kids receive a high quality education.

1. Identify smart and caring people who want to be educators 2. Provide future teachers with training on their subject matter, pedagogy, and classroom management 3. Mentor teachers 4. Give teachers autonomy and simultaneously build a feedback loop to maintain accountability

Identify smart and caring people who want to be educators

There is a dearth of internship opportunities for students who want to be educators. One of the fundamental reasons why we receive so many applications every year is because there are very few competing internship opportunities. And there are even fewer competing paid internships in the education space. We need to increase the number of educational internship opportunities for aspiring educators. Our selection process, though rigorous, is simply looking to find people who are pursuing teaching and sincerely love children.

Provide future teachers with the training on their subject matter, pedagogy, and classroom management

At the core of our beliefs at Practice Makes Perfect is a deep desire to provide students who are aspiring educators with a chance to get a dosage of what it is like to teach in a classroom. More specifically, providing future educators with a Realistic Job Preview (RJP). We work to replicate the feel and vibe of what it will be like for our summer teaching staff during the year. This allows us to provide some training and experience for the college students who decide they want to teach and to weed out other college students who decide teaching isn’t for them – both are just as important. In fact, in some professions RJP’s have increased retention by up to 20%.

Moreover, 2 out of 3 teachers reported in a large survey that schools with education departments do not prepare teachers for the realities of the classroom. College students are provided with RJPs in finance and law; it’s about time that someone provided the same internship opportunities in education. If we could increase retention by 20%, we’d be saving $400 million each year.

Mentor teachers

Corporate America thrives on mentorship and so do the youth in our summer programs, but how often do educators utilize mentors? Mentoring programs for teachers have been around in education for well over a decade now. This isn’t new insight. The more recent findings, however, show that it isn’t enough to just assign a mentor. Studies have shown that retention increases when the mentor has experience working in that school.

The benefits also aren't just limited to retention. When teachers have mentors that invest time and continue to support them consistently, there is a direct payout. Kids in teachers’ classes who receive more hours of support perform better in math and reading too.

Give teachers autonomy and simultaneously build a feedback loop to maintain accountability

Once we know our teachers are feeling comfortable and confident, we give them more autonomy. This happens in the workplace all the time. We micro manage the members on our teams who need more support and step back for the team members who consistently outperform. Autonomy in the teaching profession has been reported to increase job satisfaction and therefore increases retention. The one caveat here is to not forget about high performing teachers. Yes, autonomy is great and top performers want space, but don’t forget to give them feedback. Everyone will have room to grow and develop – and occasional positive reassurance only helps.

For my administrators – take this four-step process and evaluate it against your current teacher pipeline. For my education program professors – continue to push the needle on the amount of opportunities you’re providing for real world experience. This is a solvable problem. And it is necessary if we are going to systemically improve our public education system.