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Paul M. Hewitt
Every year U.S. public schools face a serious dropout rate. I'm not just talking about students, but about teachers. In a profession that crucially needs good practitioners, teacher attrition is staggering and on the rise.
According to Johnson, Berg, and Donaldson (2005), more than 200,000 teachers leave the education system each year to join another profession—nearly 10 percent leave within their first year, and over 50 percent leave within their first five years (Dove, 2004). This percentage is even higher in urban schools with low socioeconomic student populations (Greiner & Smith, 2006). The loss of teachers, especially those new to the profession, is a tragedy that we can avoid.
New Teachers Need Strong and Focused External Support
New teachers often begin their first year of teaching with great anticipation and excitement, only to find that in a few months they are isolated in their classroom (Flores, 2001). The first-year teacher often becomes what Gostick and Elton (2006) refer to as an "invisible employee," an individual who works diligently at his job every day, yet feels as if no one notices or acknowledges his existence. Eventually these invisible employees feel disenfranchised and lonely and lose incentive to be productive.
In a study of beginning teachers, Flores (2001) found that every respondent in her study "claimed that there was not a supportive atmosphere at school and that working relationships among staff were not effective" (p. 33). During the first five years of teaching, and especially the vital first year, new teachers need strong and focused external support. The first year of teaching is often a culture shock for new teachers; teaching is more difficult than they thought. Ingersoll (2003) found that novice teachers who leave teaching do so because they feel a lack of support from their administrators.
The Principal as Teacher-Retention Leader
The role of the principal as instructional leader is well-established; the role of the principal as new-teacher retention leader is just emerging. Beginning teachers need someone to talk to, according to Dop (2006), and the social and emotional needs of a new teacher may be the most important needs that a principal addresses. In a study of novice teachers, Williams (2003) found that teachers "do want their principals' support, encouragement, and appreciation" (p. 73). This vital role of the principal is also supported by Johnson and Birkeland (2003), who found that the key to satisfaction among new teachers was the support and respect from their principals.
Sargent (2003) concluded that the principal must be involved in new-teacher workshops before school begins and be the primary mentor for new teachers for the first three years. In addition, the principal should ensure that every new teacher has a veteran teacher as an on-site mentor to help the new teachers deal with the organizational needs that cause so much stress for them. As guides into the school-site culture, on-site mentors can also help new teachers be an accepted and valued member of the faculty.
New teachers must feel that they have a support system of other faculty members who care about them and want them to succeed. By regularly visiting new teachers' classrooms during the first few weeks of school, the principal helps ensure that new teachers realize that they are supported, valued, and their boss wants them to be successful. The principal should maintain a regular schedule of checking in with new teachers to make sure they are doing well and dealing effectively with the stresses of the first year in the classroom. The check-in process doesn't just mean formal classroom visits; it also means casual conversations around the campus to make sure that new teachers understand that the principal values them as faculty members and as people.
The most important thing for new teachers is to know that they are accepted, cared for, valued, and respected by the leader of the school, the principal.
Dop, S. (2006). Aesthetic leadership: Stories of support, relationship, and success among novice teachers and school administrators (Doctoral dissertation, University of Nebraska). Retrieved from http://proquest.umi.com/pqdlink?Ver=1&Exp=08-29-2015&FMT=7&DID=1147187771&RQT=309&attempt=1&cfc=1
Dove, M. (2004). Teacher attrition: A critical American and international education issue. Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin, 71(1), 8–30.
Flores, M. A. (2001). Person and context in becoming a new teacher. Journal of Education for Teaching, 27(2), 135–148.
Gostick, A., & Elton, C. (2006). The invisible employee: Realizing the hidden potential in everyone. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Greiner, C. S., & Smith, B. (2006). Determining the effect of selected variables on teacher retention. Education, 126(4), 653–659.
Ingersoll, R. M. (2003). The teacher shortage: Myth or reality. In F. Schultz (Ed.), Annual editions: Education (pp. 182–187). Guilford, CT: McGraw-Hill/Dushkin.
Johnson, S., & Birkeland, S. (2003). The schools that teachers choose. Educational Leadership, 60(8), 20–24.
Johnson, S. M., Berg, J. H., & Donaldson, M. L. (2005). Who stays in teaching and why: A review of the literature on teacher retention. Cambridge, MA: Project on the Next Generation of Teachers. Retrieved from http://assets.aarp.org/www.aarp.org_/articles/NRTA/Harvard_report.pdf
Sargent, B. (2003). Finding good teachers and keeping them. Educational Leadership, 60(8), 44–47.
Williams, J. S. (2003, May). Why great teachers stay. Educational Leadership, 60(8), 71–74.
Paul M. Hewitt is an assistant professor of educational leadership at the University of Arkansas–Fayetteville and retired school administrator for California.
ASCD Express, Vol. 6, No. 2. Copyright 2010 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit www.ascd.org/ascdexpress.
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