In the midst of a teacher shortage, North Carolina is trying to figure out why teachers are leaving the profession. A new report presented to the state’s board of education this week provides some insight into who these teacher are and why they choose to leave.
The state hopes the effort will lead to new ideas about how to keep departing teachers in the workforce.
The report found that new teachers—those who have been on the job fewer than three years—were more likely to leave than veteran teachers. The attrition rate for new teachers, according to the report, is 56 percent higher than for more-experienced teachers.
And those who entered the teaching profession in North Carolina through alternative routes were even more likely to leave. The attrition rate for alternative-route teachers was 79 percent higher than for teachers who entered the profession after earning an education degree from a university or college. The reasons why teachers trained through traditional routes stay longer than those trained through alternative routes are unknown, the report states, but warrant investigation.
Most of the 8,636 departing teachers noted as their cause for leaving “personal reasons,” a category which includes the decision to teach in a nonpublic school or another state, dissatisfaction with teaching, and career changes. The most common reason cited for leaving under the “personal” category was a family move. About 8 percent of the departing teachers were fired or resigned rather than submitting to dismissal.
Stemming the Tide of Teacher Attrition
The report underlined two reasons for teachers leaving the profession that changes in policy may be able to prevent: moving to another state and changing careers. About 1 in 10 teachers said they planned to teach in another state. More than half of these two groups of teachers (out-of-state movers and career changers) were still fairly new, in their first five years of teaching. These beginning teachers represent the highest attrition rate among the state’s teaching force.
The state tried to address the problem by giving new teachers a pay raise last school year, from $33,000 to $35,000, but some argue the amount is not enough to entice teachers into staying. The report suggests another salary increase might provide more of an incentive for beginning teachers who are apt to leave the state for higher-paying teaching jobs or choose entirely different careers to stay put. The report warns that such salary increases should be monitored to determine how effective they are at keeping these beginning teachers in the profession.
Teachers who left their jobs in North Carolina public schools last year were less effective on average than those who stayed. The report also found that teachers who were judged to have little impact on student achievement as determined by test scores as well as teachers who received less-than-stellar job evaluations were more likely to leave the profession than their higher-rated colleagues. Research is needed, the report stresses, to determine how principals can give beginning teachers the support they need to improve their practice while at the same time providing encouragement that might persuade them to keep at it despite challenges.
While state officials are taking a close look at which teachers are leaving and why in order to find ways to keep them in the profession, they are also trying to figure out how to entice young people to join the teaching force, especially in hard-to-staff subject areas. The state has the most difficulty, according to the report, finding math, science, and special education teachers. Adding to the problem is the fact that the state’s colleges and universities are reporting a steep decline in the number of students pursuing teacher certification in math and science. The state should work closely with colleges and universities, the report suggests, to explore ways to increase student interest in careers in teaching math and science.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.