A school’s professional culture plays a large role in how long high-achieving teachers stay in their jobs, experts on educational employment said in a online chat hosted by Education Week on the Web on December 9, 2003.
The commentators suggested that school administrators could limit teacher turnover by creating more constructive working environments for educators.
The live chat—co-sponsored by Agent K-12, Education Week‘s new online recruitment service—focused on the teacher employment market and what schools can do to attract and keep talented teachers. The expert guests for the discussion were Richard Ingersoll, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania specializing in the teaching profession; Adam Urbanski, president of the Rochester Teachers Association; and Victoria Van Cleef, vice president of The New Teacher Project.
A central theme of the chat was the link between school culture and teacher job satisfaction. In response to a question on why so many teachers leave their positions, Ingersoll said a major factor “behind teacher turnover is how much control and influence teachers have over the key decisions that affect their daily jobs.” He suggested that teachers tend to be happier in schools in which decisionmaking—particularly on classroom issues like student discipline—is “shared and collective” rather than top-down.
In later exchanges, Van Cleef stressed the importance of “quality school leadership and school climate” to teachers’ sense of thriving. High-performing teachers need “strong leadership and collegial, professional faculty relations,” she said.
All of the guests also emphasized the value of mentorship programs and other efforts to support teachers—right down to making sure they have enough chalk. Ingersoll cited data showing that first year teachers who received mentoring were “significantly more likely to stay for a second year on the job.”
The guests acknowledged that low pay contributes to many teachers’ dissatisfaction, suggesting it is an issue the education community is going to have to confront. Both Van Cleef and Urbanski voiced some support for salary incentives or increases aligned to professional achievement or specific types of service, saying that such experimentation with pay scales is an area for development. At the same time, Urbanski asserted that merit pay—when teacher salaries are based on student performance—"is a disaster.”
During the course of the chat, Van Cleef—whose organization helps districts improve their hiring systems—offered a several specific recruiting suggestions. To attract more minority teacher candidates, she recommended, schools should try using “targeted Internet” advertising and less traditional networking strategies, such as building working relationships with specific faculty members at education schools. She advised recruiters for rural schools to concentrate on promoting the unique benefits and attractions of their communities.
In addition, Van Cleef strongly urged schools to streamline hiring processes and hire teachers as early in the year as possible. Many districts lose their best candidates because of hiring delays, she said.
Other issues discussed in the chat included standards for highly qualified teachers, alternative certification programs, and regulatory burdens on teachers.