The revolving door

New teachers at high-poverty schools get frustrated, quit after a year or two and need to be replaced by new teachers. The New York Times looks at high turnover.

Here in Guilford County, N.C., turnover had become so severe in some high-poverty schools that principals were hiring new teachers for nearly every class, every term. To staff its neediest schools before classes start on Aug. 28, recruiters have been advertising nationwide, organizing teacher fairs and offering one of the nation’s largest recruitment bonuses, $10,000 to instructors who sign up to teach Algebra I.

“We had schools where we didn’t have a single certified math teacher,” said Terry Grier, the schools superintendent. “We needed an incentive, because we couldn’t convince teachers to go to these schools without one.”

After three years, nearly a third of new teachers have quit the profession, estimates the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future. After five years almost half are gone. Since it takes a few years for a new teacher to get up to speed, the neediest students tend to be taught year after year by novices.

Many districts are paying a bonus to lure new teachers but few pay experienced teachers a bonus to work at the most challenging schools.

Tim Daly, president of the New Teacher Project, a group that helps urban districts recruit teachers, said attrition often resulted from chaotic hiring practices, because novice teachers are often assigned at the last moment to positions for which they have not even interviewed. Later, overwhelmed by classroom stress, many leave the field.

. . . “most of the urban districts have no coherent hiring strategy,” he said. Many receive thousands of teacher applications in the spring but leave them unprocessed until principals return from August vacations, when more organized suburban districts have already hired the most-qualified teachers, he said.

Robert Wright, a veteran middle school teacher, thinks teachers leave because of “lack of support for enforcing discipline and being treated without respect.”

If you pay them more and treat them better, there won’t be a shortage. Mostly, it’s a question of being treated better. Money comes in a distant second.

Hire novices at the last minute to teach the neediest kids in the most chaotic schools. Forget to order supplies and books. Ask sociology majors to teach math or science. Act surprised when they quit.

In Los Angeles, which still needs to fill hundreds of teaching positions, one of seven new teachers comes from the Philippines, India, Spain and Canada, reports the Daily News. If not for the Philippines, the shortage of math, science and special education teachers would be even more critical. The foreign teachers are supposed to go home after three years, keeping that revolving door spinning.

Update: At a launch for the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence in South Carolina, Dave Saba ran into 40 Pakistani teachers “with varying degrees of English proficiency” imported to teach math and science. Check out Saba’s new blog.

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  1. Lack of support for enforcing discipline and being treated without respect.

    Robert Wright said a mouthful there. Administrators do not care about teachers and turn a blind eye to the chaos their shortsightedness and greed precipitates. Our school got a Federal grant for instituting small learning communities (SLC’s). Now teachers seem to be switching rooms annually and working twice as much as before. Almost our entire science department left last year for greener pastures, not to mention the flight of dozens more.

    Is it any wonder that charter schools have a much lower teacher turnover and higher student success?

  2. I have to agree about the discipline issue. Out of control would not be an incorrect description regarding some of the districts surrounding my home. Teachers are leaving in high numbers including some that willing to take a cut in retirement stating they simply can’t go on another two or three years.