TEACHER RETENTION: WHY DO BEGINNING TEACHERS REMAIN IN THE PROFESSION?
As beginning teachers continue to leave the profession within the first several years of entering, educators must identify factors which cause teachers to remain in the profession, as well as factors related to attrition if the current teacher shortage is to be remedied. The purpose of this study was to examine the reported attitudes of beginning teachers in order to identify perceived positive aspects of teaching as factors which may lead to teacher retention. The sample, which comprised part of an ongoing study seeking to survey teachers within various areas within the United States, was composed of teachers from randomly selected schools in Georgia. The Professional Attitude Survey, a 10 item survey instrument designed to gather information regarding 21 characteristics related to teacher career stability, was sent to the teachers of randomly selected schools. Teachers were requested to respond to questions related to demographics, teacher background, reasons for remaining in the profession, and job satisfaction. Retention factors identified by the participants are discussed and recommendations for retention are provided for teacher education programs, administrators, and the community.
Continuing concern in the education field, as well as in the United States and society at large, is centered on the high rate at which beginning teachers leave the profession. Over the years studies have revealed that most teachers who leave have fewer than 10 years of teaching experience Many reports indicate 25%-50% of beginning teachers resign during their first three years of teaching (Yoke, 2002; Fleener, 2001; NEA, 2001; NCES, 9 1999; Haselkorn, 1994). Other reports state that nearly ten percent leave in their first year (Recruiting New Teachers, Inc., 2000). While accurate measures of teacher attrition are important if school systems, administrators, and potential teachers are to effectively plan for the coming years, the need to identify factors which cause teachers to remain in the profession is perhaps of greater importance ( see end notes).
The purpose of this study was to perform a conceptual analysis of reported current attitudes of beginning teachers in order to identify perceived positive aspects of teaching as factors which may lead to teacher retention.
Attrition and Retention
Previously, educational researchers have primarily examined factors such as demographics, teacher background, professional environment, and lack of support systems which were identified as predictors of teacher attrition. The reasons teachers provided for leaving were less often due to insufficient salaries than to a lack of professionalism, collegiality, and administrative support (Bolton, 2002; Recruitment and Retention Project, 2001; Mills, 2001; Metropolitan Life Survey of Former Teachers, 1986). Additionally, while retirement and reduction of school staff were reported reasons for some attrition, the more frequently cited reasons were family, personal circumstances, and job dissatisfaction (Voke, 2002). More recently, disruptive students, uninvolved parents and invasive bureaucracy were identified as contributing to the demoralization of teachers (McDonough, 2003), and to influencing the inclination of teachers to leave the classroom.
Today’s teachers face an increasing variety of classroom conditions, including English Speakers of Other Languages and language immersion classrooms, inclusion and state mandated programs, as well as a need for increased knowledge and skills in such diverse areas as portfolio assessment, technology, cooperative learning, and a wide variety of specific instructional strategies (Potter, Swenk, et.al., 2001). The new educational conditions, goals, and reforms are compounding, for the beginning teacher, what is already a complex professional challenge. Teachers just entering the classroom experience “classroom or reality shock” and often mistake the uneasiness they feel as an indication that they have made a mistake in their choice of profession. Although many beginning teachers expect to stay in the profession, others view teaching as transitional to other jobs in education or in other occupations. If the positive aspects of their new job are not emphasized, many new teachers will look elsewhere (Teacher Retention Unit, 2002).
The Recruitment and Retention Project (2002) identified three major classes of factors that influence teacher retention: external factors, employment factors, and personal factors. Although external factors including retirement incentives, alternatives outside of teaching, salary, and the availability of other teaching positions impact a teacher’s decision to stay or leave the profession, personal factors and employment factors often provide many more compelling reasons.
This sample, which comprised part of an ongoing study which seeks to survey teachers within various areas within the United States, was composed of teachers from randomly selected schools in Georgia. Using the State’s public school directory, each county within the state was assigned a number. Gay’s Table of Random Numbers (1996) was then used to identify 50 counties. The same procedure was then used to identify five schools per county. The principal of each selected school was contacted by mail and requested to provide information from 5 teachers (K-8). Principals then, according to their individual methodologies, contacted the teachers in their schools and obtained their participation in completing the surveys.
The Professional Attitude Survey, a 10 item survey instrument designed to gather information regarding 21 characteristics related to teacher career stability, was sent to the teachers in each participating school. Teachers were requested to respond to questions related to demographics, teacher background, reasons for remaining in the profession, and job satisfaction. The pilot study of this instrument was conducted in Fall 2000. Test-retest stability was measured to determine the stability of scores over time. A group of approximately 100 teachers completed the survey, once in September and once in November 2000. The scores from each were correlated and the coefficient of stability was calculated to be 0.90.
One thousand two-hundred fifty surveys were sent out to participating schools. A packet of information was sent to the principal of each identified school from the random sample. A cover letter and copies of the survey instrument were included in each packet. If the principal agreed to his/her faculty’s participation in the study, the principal distributed the survey instrument to the teachers. The teachers independently completed the surveys and returned the self-addressed, stamped surveys. Only those interested participated. Forty percent of the 500 returned were classified as coming from beginning teachers having fewer than ten years of experiences.
For those participants or principals who wanted to know the results of the survey, such information was requested by the individual providing their name and address. all information obtained by the survey was anonymously reported in group totals only.
As is evidenced in Table 1, of those identified as beginning teachers, 47% had fewer than four years of teaching experiences with 53% having between four and 10 years of teaching experience. Of those with fewer than 10 years of experience, 15% were kindergarten teachers, 47% were elementary teachers, and 38% were middle school teachers. Eleven percent were male and 89% female. The cultural composition of the group was 76% white, 13% African American, 5% Hispanic, 1% Native American and 1% Asian.
Results and Interpretation
For purpose of comparison, data related to support systems within the professional environment were analyzed by category according to a range of teaching years which classify the beginning teacher. Therefore, the term “beginning teachers” was operationally defined as those educators who have been teaching for 10 or fewer years. Beginning teaching was classified in two phases:
Phase 1 teachers, those who have 0-3 years of teaching experience, are truly the beginning teachers. During these years in their careers they are usually still eager to implement those practices and procedures about which they studied in college and are idealistic enough to believe they will change the world.
Phase 2 teachers, those who have been teaching 4-9 years, can be considered the experienced beginners. This group of beginning teachers still appears be hopeful of making a change in the educational system, but many have begun to find a dissonance and are seeking a balance between the ideas to which they were exposed in college and those with which they have come into contact since joining the “real world.” Each of the following tables allows a comparison of total responses by phase.
Table 2 relates to the external context of the teaching environment. Administrators, retirement incentives, the community, availability of jobs outside of teaching as well as other teaching jobs, and salary comprise the external aspect of the beginning teacher support system. These factors are categorized based on their lack of relationship to personal interests and aspects of working within a school or district. The degree to which beginning teachers perceive support from or by the components which comprise external factors directly relate to their comfort level and their desire to remain in the profession.
Salary was the only external factor identified by beginning teachers as a reason for remaining in the teaching profession. A higher percentage of Phase 2 teachers indicated that salaries contributed to the decision to stay than did Phase 1 teachers. Twenty-three percent of all beginning teachers did not identify any external factors as a reason to remain in the teaching profession.
Table 3 provides information based on responses related to the employment factors identified by the survey participants. Employment factors included working conditions (teachers roles, support from administration, paperwork, class size, availability of resources), job security (tenure, qualifications of teachers), and collegiality (similar teaching ideology, expectation of intrinsic rewards).
The majority of Phase 2 teachers indicated that employment factors play a significant role in determining if they will continue teaching. It appears that teachers newer to the profession, Phase 1, tend to be less sure of how their ideology compares with that of others and whether or not the working conditions are compatible with their expectations for their life’s work. The more experienced Phase 2 teachers were better able to identify both their own ideology, the ideology of others, and satisfactory working conditions, thereby allowing for a more collegial and professional atmosphere. Therefore, it is important for beginning teachers to have colleagues with whom they can share ideas, make plans, and attempt to solve problems. When beginning teachers are mentored in this way, they express fewer feelings of isolation and benefit by gaining knowledge from more experienced teachers. This feeling of empowerment, gained from the support of colleagues and a positive work environment, assists the beginning teacher in gaining positive self-esteem and efficacy. Conversely, teachers without this support are more likely to perceive themselves as isolated and even ridiculed when they are not supported by the individuals within their school.
Perceived job security is the highest ranking employment factor indicated by both Phase 1 and Phase 2 teachers. There is a slight difference (Phase 1=59%, Phase 2=57%) between the two groups, but this is not remarkable. Apparently, the majority of beginning teachers view job security as a positive factor for remaining in the profession.
Table 4 presents information related to the question “How does the professional prestige (from the community) of teachers compare to your expectations prior to your beginning to teach?”
While over half of the respondents indicated that the professional prestige was as they had expected, over 40% indicated that it was worse than they had expected. Differences between the two groups indicated that earlier in the profession fewer teachers expressed that teaching carries less prestige than they originally expected. At the beginning of their career, many teachers are so inundated with tasks inside the educational environment that they may be relatively unaware of the feelings of the outside community. However, during the second phase, more teachers perceive professional prestige as worse than expected, generally a direct result of the perceptions from sources outside of the field of education. As they become more accustomed to the job, they begin to notice the manner in which education is presented in the media, both locally and nationally. Beginning teachers who expressed perceived support by the community, composed of the parents of the children whom they teach, are likely to become disillusioned with their chosen profession. A lack of support from this group results in the beginning teacher experiencing pressure, the need to improve in some undefined and sometimes unrealistic way, and can contribute to the decision to leave teaching.
The items addressed within the area of the beginning teachers’ interpersonal environment deal with support systems and the concept of professionalism. The term “profession” indicates an earned degree of respect associated with education, training, and (eventually) experience. However, many teachers indicate their belief that educators are not accorded the prestige and authority which they express that they have earned and deserve. Professionals are usually distinguished by their specialty knowledge and skills, the unique contributions they make, the freedom afforded them to make decisions based on their best professional judgement, and the opportunity to organize their time and direct their own work. An objective review of the practices of most schools will evidence that the teaching profession often promotes none of these characteristics. Even a casual examination of most schools will generally reveal that teachers must schedule all breaks (lunch and bathroom), sign in and out of the workplace, have limited access to the school building unless the children are present, and conduct bus duty, playground duty, hall duty, and lunchroom duty. Additionally, few have private offices, access to telephones for private calls, or time to confer with colleagues. Research shows that dissatisfaction related to these aspects of teaching are ones that approximately two-thirds of teachers and former teachers cite as a reason for leaving the profession (Spears, Gould, & Lee, 2000; Murphy, 1993).
Previous studies have yielded a profile of the teacher who is most likely to leave the profession: the secondary male teacher who has been teaching for fewer than five years, whose principal stifles creativity in the school environment, where the teachers’ ideas about teaching differ from those of colleagues and who express that the professional prestige of the education profession is not as good as the teacher was originally led to believe it would be. The inference is that experienced early childhood or elementary females teachers whose employment factors are perceived to be supportive, and who indicate that the professional prestige of their chosen field is positive are those who stay in the profession.
Based on the responses to these factors, it appears that this group of teachers is not predisposed to leaving the profession. However, although the majority of this population appears to exist in a supportive professional environment, many beginning teachers do not. What can be done to assist the beginning teacher who does not feel as though his/her efforts are being facilitated and appreciated?
Teacher Education Programs
As teacher education programs continue to educate those who select the teaching profession as their chosen career, they must focus on ways to assist in the retention of good beginning teachers in the profession. While many colleges provide career placement services, many beginning teachers are poorly matched with the schools in which they initially begin their teaching career. Teacher education programs need to provide pre-service teachers with ample opportunities to visit and interact with teachers and administrators in a variety of realistic school settings. Such visits would present occasions for gaining greater knowledge about the kind of support each school offers new teachers, the expectations of other teachers and the administration, and the community from which the students stem.
The establishment of mentoring programs, afforded to beginning teacher for the first several years following graduation, can also provide the beginning teacher with personal encouragement, assistance in curriculum development, advice about lesson plans, and feedback about teaching. Since the teacher education faculty will have prior knowledge about these beginning teachers, the mentoring pairings can be appropriate and positive in terms of personal compatibility. Additionally, beginning teachers from various schools can be paired, thus providing another ongoing link from previous years with one who has a familiarity with the ideology, concepts, and dispositions brought from the teacher education program into the beginning teacher situation.
Administrators should focus on continuing to provide all teachers, but particularly beginning teachers, with positive experiences in support of the new ideas they bring with them from their teacher education programs. Regular, structured, faculty development opportunities should be provided so that beginning teachers have a forum in which to share ideas, learn ways of teaching which are similar, and become more familiar with school curriculum. Teaming situations between beginning and experienced teachers should be arranged, basing the matching of beginning and experienced teachers on common information gleaned during classroom visits. Administrators must continue to promote teachers’ accomplishments to one another and to the educational community. Additionally, they must enhance the public perception of teaching as a true profession.
Without the support of the community, beginning teachers will continue to leave the profession for other endeavors which afford them positive feelings of efficacy and accomplishment. For communities to become more supportive of teachers and the conditions under which many of them teach it will take a combined effort on the part of the individual school administration, other teachers, teacher education programs, and people within the community. It is important that teachers, beginning and experienced, and school administrators furnish parents and other community members ample opportunities to participate in school activities, thus providing them a more intimate look at schooling. Parents and other adults should be encouraged to assist with classroom activities such as reading aloud to children, directing art or music activities, and assisting with field days will allow individuals within the community to take an active part in the teacher’s day. As community members become more familiar with how the educational system works and with the various aspects of teaching they will, in turn, become more supportive of and sympathetic with the teachers in their community. Community participants must make the most of the opportunities afforded them by the schools and make time to become involved. Only when administrators and people within the community begin to work together can open communication be achieved and the professional prestige of teachers be improved.
The purpose of this study was to perform a conceptual analysis of reported current attitudes of beginning teachers in order to identify perceived positive aspects of teaching as factors which may lead to teacher retention. By comparing the expressed attitudes toward their interpersonal support systems with factors previously identified as predictors of attrition and articulating these perceptions, contributions toward a greater understanding of why beginning teachers leave the profession and identification of perceived positive aspects of teaching as factors which may lead to teacher retention can be addressed.
Beginning teachers can benefit when provided with opportunities to interact and work with (1) teacher education mentors, (2) colleagues with similar ideas about teaching and working cooperatively, (3) administrators who encourage and promote teachers’ ideas and (4) a community which feels positive about the educational system and those involved. It is necessary that teacher education programs be proactive and provide support which does not end upon graduation. Support systems within the school environment, provided by teacher education programs and local school administration are an essential element which can be provided. Community members can contribute toward the beginning teacher’s feeling of self-worth and thus improve the condition of the classroom environment through active involvement. Benefits for teachers include positive feelings of self-worth, worthwhile contributions to the curriculum, a support network for “bad days,” positive interactions with parents and other local authorities for the beginning teacher-all which ultimately benefit the students within the beginning teacher’s classroom.
Information regarding the need for accurate measures of attrition for each state can be located on specific State Department of Education websites. These sites may be accessed through a search at www.ed.gov.
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DR. DUANE INMAN
Associate Professor of Education
Charter School of Education and Human Sciences
Mount Berry, GA 30149
DR. LESLIE MARLOW
Associate Professor of Education
Charter School of Education and Human Sciences
Mount Berry, GA 30149
Copyright Project Innovation Summer 2004
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