Hiring Teachers Is Only Half the Battle; Retention is Key

“Are you coming back to work here next year Ms. Sanders?”

Having worked within the school system for three years now, I now understand why each year I am randomly asked this question by one of my students.When I was a student, I never asked this question to a teacher or school staff member.

Not in elementary school.

Not in middle school.

Not in high school.

That’s because my frame of reference did not depict one where teacher attrition was a concern.

New Orleans natives have heard time and time again the old stories of educators teaching three generations of one single family. I can recall a large number of teachers, from elementary to high school who were not only close in age with my mother, but also members of the community.

But a key word here is, “old”.

It’s not a secret that school staff look a lot different now than they did before Hurricane Katrina ravaged families and communities in 2004. Before they were older, Black, and from the community.   Now, they are young, white, female.

I have often asked myself:

  • Is this a recipe for longevity within a system that serves some of the country’s most impoverished youth?
  • Does it make sense to bring in “teachers” who know absolutely nothing about the cultural norms and idiosyncrasies that apply to the Black community, especially a community like New Orleans?

This is a system that needs consistency and deep connection and understanding more than ever.

It’s truly a gem these days to find a teaching professional with 5+ years within the field.  Even greater when the duration is longer, but this isn’t true for a lot of school employees.  Whatever the reasons for departure are, school employees either opt to make adjustments to new/different school settings or leave the profession altogether.

The Alliance for Excellent Education reports roughly half a million U.S. teachers either move or leave the profession each year—attrition that costs the United States up to $2.2 billion annually. I think that’s deplorable.

  • What are your reasons for becoming an educator if it doesn’t include being in it for the long haul?
  • Why create relationships with students and their families if you are only going to be there long enough to get your student loans paid?
  • How do the students benefit in that self-preservation model?

A report on teacher shortages in the U.S. list the following as some of the reasons teachers have elected to leave the profession:

  • Teachers with little preparation tend to leave at rates two to three times as high as those who have had a comprehensive preparation before they enter.
  • Teachers in high-poverty and high-minority schools tend to have higher rates of attrition, as do teachers of color, who are disproportionately represented in these schools.

I can empathize with the aforementioned reasons, but this doesn’t take away the distress placed upon the students left behind and the school leaders left feeling betrayed and left to find a replacement.

The report goes on to mention that administrative support is the factor most consistently associated with teachers’ decisions to stay in or leave a school.

Although uncomfortable, it would be worthwhile for administrators to do a thorough and comprehensive exit interview to take an honest look at why staff departures are occurring because this is the only way to truly cultivate a more efficient approach to not only hiring and training teachers to adopt to school cultures, but to improve retention to ensure that students can maintain the consistency of teacher and support service providers.

As we acknowledge National School Choice Week this week, I do so with an ask to all school administrators and educators: before you offer or receive that teaching job, honestly ask or answer the question “Are you here to stay?” If the answer is anything other than yes, then perhaps teaching isn’t the profession for you.

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