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How to keep talented teachers from leaving

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As many studies have shown, without adequate mentoring, administrative support, or opportunities for professional feedback and development, the first three years of teaching become a trial by fire. In fact, various researchers have found that one-third to one-half of all teachers – and even more in high-need schools – leave the profession within the first five years, often citing lack of support and resources as reasons for their departure.

The perceived low status of teaching is also a serious obstacle to keeping teachers in classrooms. So, of course, are compensation issues and questions of how teachers’ effectiveness is evaluated, the subject of frequent and corrosive headlines that often reduce teaching to test scores.

Not surprisingly, many new teachers reported a phase where they felt disillusioned, defeated, and a deep sense of having failed. Teachers who have been academic high-achievers often cannot deal with this sense of failure; they have been hard-working, motivated, and successful in virtually everything they have done. They blame themselves for not better overcoming the shortcomings of the system and soon begin to believe they are not good teachers.

To help new teachers deal with classroom strains, better preparation – including year-long experiences in real classrooms, integrated with university coursework – is powerfully effective. So is strong mentoring in the first couple of years of teaching. Good school leadership is also crucial. One teacher told us, “The teachers set the tone in the classroom, and a principal sets the tone in the building.”

Most of all, as many observers have argued, those hoping to elevate the teaching profession need to identify opportunities for growth and distinction that will support a greater respect for teaching. One education policy expert told us, “If you’re a high achiever and you’re looking at the landscape of occupations, you know you might go really far if you go into law or business, or medicine. But, in teaching, what you see ahead of you is many years of doing the same thing.”

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