School & District Management

Keeping New Teachers In, Bringing Back Those Who Leave

By Sarah D. Sparks — October 01, 2015 2 min read
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Support at the beginning can make a big difference in whether a new teacher stays long enough to become a veteran, finds a new federal study.

The Beginning Teacher Longitudinal Study began tracking about 155,600 new teachers in the 2007-08 school year, and three out of four were still teaching five years later. More than 3 in 5 of those were still teaching in the same school where they started.

One of the things I found interesting? How small a gap there really was between teachers in low- and high-poverty schools. The five-year turnover rate for schools that had more than half of students eligible for free or reduced-price meals was 20 percent, only 5 percentage points lower than the turnover rate for schools with lower-than-average poverty. However, the teachers who left those higher-poverty schools were more likely than other teachers to get out of the profession entirely.

Gone Doesn’t Mean Given Up

Though about a quarter of teachers did not teach all years of the study, a majority of those who left at some point either returned to teaching by the end of the study or said they expected to return. Only 6 percent of all those new teachers said they were leaving teaching for good.

Those who entered teaching through an alternative certification program were roughly the same as their teaching-college peers, but were slightly less likely to stay in teaching or to stay at the same school all five years. The biggest difference: Of those who didn’t stay all five years, 65 percent of teachers who entered through a traditional path returned or said they planned to come back to the classroom, while less than half of teachers who came through an alternative program said they would return.

Which Teachers Get Support?

Early supports seemed to make a difference: 80 percent of teachers who had a mentor in their first year stayed in teaching all five years, 16 percentage points more than teachers who did not have an early mentor. Similarly, 8 in 10 teachers who went through an induction program completed five years of teaching, 11 percentage points more than teachers who had not been inducted. Moreover, among those who left teaching at some point, the teachers who had had a mentor were nearly 10 percentage points more likely to come back than those who hadn’t had someone to lean on in that first year.

Yet teachers at the most disadvantaged schools were less likely to get the sort of supports that could help keep them in teaching. About 77 percent of teachers at schools with more than half of students in poverty received mentors in their first year, compared to 83 percent at wealthier schools. Teachers at higher poverty schools were also less likely than teachers at wealthier schools to serve in leadership roles in their schools--participating in committees, union offices, or as subject-matter experts--in later years.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.

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