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Lesson 3.3

How to Keep a Teacher

They say half of all teachers quit within five years. Surprisingly…

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It is often said that half of new teachers depart the profession within five years. This is a myth.

According to a 2015 longitudinal survey by the National Center on Education Statistics, at least 82.7% who started as teachers in 2007 were still teaching or serving in other education roles five years later. Myth busted. (See EdSource for more about the data.)

It is often said that half of new teachers depart the profession within five years. This is a myth. Close to nine out of ten new teachers remain in the education field at least five years.

In today’s America, most people are career-changers, and this includes teachers. On average, pre-retirement turnover among teachers, about 6%, is about the same as most other major categories of employment.

As always, averages conceal variations. Turnover tends to be much higher than average in high-poverty and high-minority schools where working conditions for teachers tend to be worst.

More Teachers Leave Schools Of High Poverty
Quartile (number of schools in quartile) Avg % of Novice* Teachers
Lowest Poverty Quartile (N=1,966) 5%
Second Lowest Poverty Quartile (N=1,961) 5%
Second Highest Poverty Quartile (N=1,962) 7%
Highest Poverty Quartile (N=1,963) 8%
*A novice is in his or her first or second year of teaching. Source: CFTL

Partly due to this pattern, students in poverty are more likely than other students to have inexperienced teachers throughout their education.

Induction programs help

One strategy for keeping new teachers in the profession and improving their effectiveness is to provide a structured program of training and mentorship for new teachers to help them learn the ropes. In education lingo, this kind of on-the-job support is known as an "induction" program. In California, an induction program is the preferred way for a teacher to complete requirements for a clear or professional credential.

As with any program, some induction programs are better than others. In order to raise the level of quality of such programs, California has established accreditation criteria for them. Successful induction programs not only reduce the "rookie ratio" in schools, they also save money that would otherwise be spent recruiting and hiring new teachers.

Teachers have reported that they stay in the profession because of this on-job support as well as having the time to collaborate with education leaders and colleagues. They appreciate having a sense of autonomy and ability to provide input on student outcomes.

Successful "induction" programs not only reduce the "rookie ratio," they also save money.

Some districts and schools, searching for alternatives, have begun to test “grow your own” approaches to teacher recruitment and education. One example is the California Teacher Pathway program, which identifies young people from low-income neighborhoods who show a passion for teaching. The program, which in 2013 was in its infancy, intends to support these aspiring teachers from the time they enter a community college until they earn their teaching credential. This is all with the hope they will stay in their home community and teach.

Clearly, it is bad for kids when great teachers depart the profession. Reducing turnover for its own sake, however, is not the point. Not all experienced teachers are equally effective with students. In 2011, a wave of seniority-determined layoffs brought the issue of teacher retention into a new focus, a topic that is discussed further in Ed100 primer 3.10 Tenure and Seniority.

Updated May 2017


About what percentage of new teachers leave the profession within 5 years?

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Questions & Comments

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user avatar
Carol Kocivar January 29, 2016 at 2:43 pm
The Learning Policy Institute provides policy briefs that look at strategies on retaining teachers:
Teacher Residencies:
A Case Study: Residencies at Work:
user avatar
Lori M. April 22, 2015 at 6:31 pm
With the new funding issues, it is going to be difficult for some districts to retain well qualified teachers.
user avatar
Janet L. April 19, 2015 at 5:03 pm
As a revenue limit district surrounded by basic aid districts, many of the teachers that leave our district are leaving for higher pay from surrounding districts. If California schools were funded fairly, we would be able to pay our excellent teachers a competitive salary.
user avatar
Stacey W April 6, 2015 at 6:25 pm
At my son's high school, quite a few of the teachers attended the school in their teens and returned upon receiving their teaching credential. Those teachers are very proud of the school and its heritage. The school serves a large Hispanic population, and I think it is empowering for current students to hear about their teacher's background (roots) and know that they can also be successful if they continue their education.
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