Principal Perspectives

By Anthony Rebora — September 01, 2004 2 min read

A majority of school principals say that providing in-school support is the best way to help new teachers succeed in the profession, according to a data-rich report issued by Recruiting New Teachers Inc., a nonprofit group based in Belmont, Mass.

The report, prepared for RNT by Peter Harris Research Group, is based on information gathered from telephone interviews with a cross-section of 600 principals throughout the country. It is meant to shed light on school administrators’ views on teacher recruitment and retention.

Sixty percent of the principals surveyed cited in-school support systems--including formal mentoring programs as well as observation of experienced teachers and meetings with experienced staff--as the most effective resources for new teachers, according to the report. Half of the principals said that providing additional support would be the best way to improve their existing programs for new teachers.

Those findings echo other recent research and commentary pointing to the benefits of strong mentoring programs and supportive staff relationships to new teachers.

The report also says that a full 85 percent of principals cite stress as a “serious issue” for first-year teachers, with classroom management and instructional skills most commonly mentioned as the greatest challenges for new educators.

Accordingly, the report says, 63 percent of principals think education schools should put a greater emphasis on teaching practical knowledge of classroom conditions, including classroom management skills and discipline strategies. About one in four said aspiring teachers should also be required to spend more time student teaching and observing experienced teachers.

For experienced teachers, the principals surveyed were mostly likely to cite instructional effectiveness as the greatest professional challenge. That includes staying on top of curriculum changes and new teaching methods, as well as adjusting to state and federal standards and tests.

However, asked what is the greatest challenge in retaining teachers, nearly half of the principals simply pointed to low pay. “Lifestyle issues,” such as retirement and relocation, came in second.

In perhaps the report’s most complex finding, 60 percent of the principals said they are opposed to higher rates of pay for teachers in shortage subjects such as math and science, even while 56 percent agreed that such differential pay would attract more qualified candidates. The researchers surmise that school leaders are simply hesitant to take on this “potentially volatile issue.”

On the whole, the principals rated “word of mouth” and area colleges as the best sources for recruiting new teachers, with lists of teacher candidates provided by the state or school district ranking considerably lower. However, the researchers found that low-income urban schools are far more dependent on official teacher-candidate lists than suburban or rural schools.

Recruitment sources may also have an effect on retention rates: The report presents some interesting data suggesting that teachers from local colleges may be more likely to stick with their initial schools of hire.