Recruiting educators into the profession will only be effective if we are able to retain them.
We do not yet fully know the effects of the pandemic on career plans, but within a single year, from March 2020 to March 2021, the percent of teachers who said they would remain in the classroom until retirement dropped from 74 percent to 69 percent.
If a teacher, ESP, or SISP is underpaid, undervalued, and not respected or supported, what would stop them from looking elsewhere, especially when non-education employers are providing higher pay, better benefits, more manageable hours, better working conditions, and a higher level of professional respect?
There are several retention solutions that can help address the educator shortage crisis, including the following:
Reduce the Time It Takes to Reach Career-Level Pay
For an educator to reach the top of a pay scale, it can take decades. As a result, the pay gap between teachers and similarly educated professionals actually has been wider at mid-career than at the start, and teachers with 10 years of experience have been shown to make less than workers in positions that do not require a college degree in some states.
A strong, short salary schedule that offers competitive starting rates, rewards for professional development, and competitive mid- and late-career earnings are promising recruitment and retention tools.
Continue or Establish Comprehensive Induction and Mentoring Programs
While all early-career teachers and staff need resources and supports, they have individual needs—just as their students have diverse learning and cultural needs.
Although many districts have implemented induction and mentoring programs, the most effective programs offer a multifaceted approach to support new educators.
Comprehensive induction and mentoring allows for customization to meet educator needs and includes the following:
- new educator orientation week at the beginning of the school year;
- mentoring by qualified and trained mentors for at least the first two years of work;
- support teams that meet routinely, in addition to formal mentoring by a mentor;
- courses and workshops for beginning educators from the school district central office on relevant topics;
- continuous training for mentors throughout their coaching career; and
- training for principals on how to support early-career educators and mentors.
Educators who receive high-quality, targeted support at the beginning of their careers have been shown to be more effective and more likely to stay in teaching as those who did not. These benefits outweigh the costs of providing mentoring and induction to new educators.
Ensure Educators Have Access to Relevant, Immediately Useful Professional Learning
All educators should have access to high-quality professional learning opportunities. In its in-depth review of the research on this topic, the Learning Policy Institute outlines seven shared features of effective professional development, which require the following:
- be content focused;
- incorporate active learning;
- support collaboration;
- use models of effective practice;
- provide coaching and expert support;
- offer feedback and reflection; and
- be of sustained duration.
Unfortunately, many teachers have not found the learning opportunities provided to them useful, and these teachers have been more likely to quit teaching.
The issue of professional learning is even more acute for ESPs. According to a 2016–2017 NEA survey, only 39 percent of ESPs have been provided time during the workday to attend professional development, and 11 percent have been provided no access to learning opportunities by their school, worksite, or district. Less than two-thirds of ESPs (62 percent) said that the professional development provided by their employer was relevant to their work.
Create Career Lattices and Ladders
Educators often note that teaching is a “flat profession.” Some experienced educators leave the profession because once they had become a teacher, there is often very little room for advancement without becoming an administrator.
Creating teacher leadership opportunities with additional compensation allows educators to remain close to teaching while still experiencing other roles, such as mentor, instructional coach, and professional learning specialist.
Teachers who have taken on such leadership roles are more likely to plan to stay in the profession, as are teachers who have worked in districts with career ladders.
Similarly, teachers who have become National Board Certified Teachers (NBCT) are not only more effective but are also more likely to stay in the classroom, with teachers attributing this in part to the salary supplements tied to achieving NBCT status.
Advocate for License/Certification Reciprocity
Obtaining a state teacher’s license or certificate is highly controlled to ensure a high quality of education and to protect children. However, requirements for a license can vary widely from state to state, making it difficult for existing license holders to obtain a license in a new state.
A few states have reciprocity agreements in place to make this process easier, but it is not universal.
Limited research has suggested that non-reciprocal licensure may discourage teachers from re-entering the profession after relocating to a new state. In fall 2020, the Council of State Governments began the groundwork to create an Interstate Teacher Mobility Compact to help solve these issues by creating an agreement across states.
Solutions in Action
- Frederick County Teachers Association in Maryland ratified a contract that increases the number of paid workdays provided for employees in leadership roles, such as department chairs, special education teachers, and speech language pathologists. https://www.yahoo.com/news/months-impasse-frederick-county
- With the help of a $335,120 grant from the NEA Great Public Schools fund, Nebraska State Education Association has created its Aspiring Educators program and its Next Generation program for early-career educators, providing professional development, mentors and classroom resources. https://www.nea.org/advocating-for-change/new-from-nea/recruiting-educators-color
- Pottsgrove Education Association in Pennsylvania negotiated higher supplemental payments for teachers who serve in special roles, such as activity advisors or coaches. https://sanatogapost.com/2022/07/20/pottsgrove-teacher-contract-approved/