Remember your first day of teaching—waiting outside your classroom door, pencils freshly sharpened, bulletin board freshly stapled with inspiring slogans and posters? Remember being full of expectation (and maybe some anxiousness), ready to fill the minds of young people with the love of learning? And then the students enter your classroom…and you realize that none of it is going to be quite as easy as you thought. In fact, it might have ended up being a lot harder.
Previously, we explored two reasons that contributed to the high number of teachers that leave the profession within their first five years of service: Difficult Work Assignments and Unclear Expectations. Today, we’ll look at two more, again addressing how school leaders can engage in practices that help them retain more of their budding talented professionals.
The third environmental difficulty that causes new teachers to leave the profession— from our previously referenced book by Gordon and Maxey—is labeled Inadequate Resources. When a teacher leaves a school, returning teachers often descend on the vacated classroom and take whatever furniture or materials they’ve been eyeing, leaving the incoming new teachers with the remains that no one else wanted. This causes the new teacher to start out well behind their peers when it comes to the ability to have success in teaching their students—adding another significant cause of stress. Often, new teachers don’t even know what resources they are missing until they attempt to teach a particular topic and find out that the materials referenced in the curriculum are gone!
When teaching teams exist, this may be less of a concern: teammates may well look out for their new incoming partners and protect valuable resources on their behalf. But in schools where the culture is “everyone for themselves,” this is a common danger. School leaders should make it a point to establish, procure, and protect standard sets of resources well in advance of teacher transitions to help mitigate this. They should enlist the aid of custodial staff and department chairs or grade-level leads to ensure resources are gathered and protected—even something as simple as a comfortable chair for teachers to use at their desk!
Assigning mentors to new teachers can also help, people who can share important resources on both an as-needed and on-going basis. We’ve already seen in Part One how mentors can perform observations using the eObservations tools—observations that can quickly reveal when needed resources are missing so that the mentor can assist in lending materials as soon as possible.
And now let’s address environmental difficulty number four: Isolation. Teachers often feel emotionally isolated because they’re frequently assigned to the most physically isolated classrooms. This may take the form of overflow classes (and therefore newly-hired teachers) being assigned to “trailer” classrooms, converted storage rooms, or other such contrivances. Physical distance—not having a companion teacher right next door, or a helpful administrator in an office nearby—can exacerbate the feelings of isolation and potential helplessness that new teachers sometimes experience. The lack of nearby adults qualified to provide assistance if needed places the new teachers in a danger zone.
The Gordon and Maxey book also explores social and professional isolation. Novice teachers generally don’t know as many staff in their school, and veteran teachers, sometimes to protect their own “turf” or their positions of informal authority, are not always quick to offer assistance.
School leaders therefore must help mitigate these issues. Surrounding new teachers with veterans can offer a valuable security blanket. And the assignment of mentors or professional coaches to the teacher, with requirements to meet regularly and frequently, can assuage the isolation pitfalls. Ensuring there is an active and positive social committee that brings staff together can also help build important bonds between colleagues, both novice and veteran.
Coming up in our Part Three finale, we’ll examine two more reasons new teachers leave the profession.
Interested in this topic? Read more here:
Carroll, T.G., Foster, E. (2010). “Who will teach? Experience matters.” IES National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=28
Gordon, S.P., and Maxey, S. (2000). How to help beginning teachers succeed: 2nd edition. Alexandria, VA.ASCD:
National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF) (n.d.). Fast facts. Retrieved from http://nctaf.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/NCTAF-Who-Will-Teach-Experience-Matters-2010-Report.pdf