Recruiting and Retaining a New Generation of Teachers

Two officials from the Vancouver, Wash., school district discussed the reinvention of their human resources department—an initiative that is beginning to pay dividends in the form of increased recruitment and retention.

January 8, 2008

Recruiting and Retaining a New Generation of Teachers

Recruiting and Retaining a New Generation of Teachers

Anthony Rebora (Moderator):

Welcome to our live Web chat on recruiting and retaining teachers--obviously an extremely pressing issue in K-12 education today.

The Vancouver, Wash., school district says it has tackled the problem with a systemic reinvention of its whole human resources department and is starting to have some real success. We have two officials from the district online to take your questions and discuss their strategies: Lee Goeke, the Vancouver’s associate superintendent of human resources management; and Ed Wilgus, the district professional development manager

Let’s hear what they have to say.

Question from Jim Antonelli, Principal, Westford Academy:

What do you see as the major problem in getting quality people to join our great profession?

Lee Goeke:

This is the critical question. We can’t afford to have 6 million qualified teachers out there who are not teaching...let alone having 160,000 of every 220,000 new graduates fail to enter the profession. This is even more urgent given that the research suggests that it is the most potentially capable teachers who don’t enter. At some level, we have to believe that college student chose to pursue education because of a desire and commitment...wage comparisons certainly aren’t a secret. Granted, for some students, education might be a default. I find much of the answer in my past HR experience outside of education. I was taken aback by how archaic our recruiting processes are in education compared to other professions. We hire late, we take forever to make a hire decision, we domonstrate a pre-occupation with form and forms over substance, we don’t market ourselves very well, and we don’t have a legacy of “on boarding” that would compare to corporate competitors. We shouldn’t be surprised that top candidates, and even midian candidates, give up on us and take an offer outside of education that is more forthcoming and more enticing. If this has hurt us competitively in the past, it will be our undoing with millenials!

Question from Bob Ryshke, Executive Director of the Center for Teaching, Drew Charter School in Atlanta:

Lee and Ed: Can you give us some specific examples of things you have done to achieve a retention rate of 91%? Are you finding that teachers you hire that are new to teaching are staying committed and connected to the profession? What do you attribute this to? Thanks!

Ed Wilgus:

The most important, and probably most obvious, thing we have done is to acknowledge that retention happens by design and not by chance. When we studied the research on why teachers leave, we recognized that we couldn’t do a great deal about the compensation issue – at least not in the near term. Therefore we targeted the most common reasons after money and that led us to (1) quality of administrator support, (2) student behavior and discipline, and (3) student motivation, and (4) faculty influence. We believed that if we could change these 4, we could at least lessen the significance of money. So, we developed a new competency model for administrators that aligned with our competency model for a great teacher – this helped train administrators, direct their energy, and meet teachers’ expectations of support. Similarly, we significantly increased training of teachers in classroom management and intervention strategies, as well as tools for dealing with at-risk factors that impact motivation (i.e., poverty, culture, etc.). When we survey first year teachers, they speak to this type of support as reasons why they stay. As to the second part of the question, we believe that teachers don’t enter the profession fearful of these at-risk barriers and characteristics, but they do leave the profession if they aren’t given the tools to overcome them and be successful with children.

Question from Dr. Gayle B. Sawyer, Executive Director, Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement--South Carolina:

What stategies have been successful for the VSD in recruiting and retaining teachers of color, especially African-American or Hispanic males?

Lee Goeke:

When discussing the recruitment of teachers of color, here were some research facts we confronted. *Teachers of color come closest to proportional representation in large urban districts. *They teach in schools having large numbers of students from their own ethnic group. *They are most often employed in district having 30% or more students of color. *Their numbers have steadily decreased in the teaching profession. *Almost every school district wants more teachers of color. Speaking as a minority, my experience has found that teachers of color want the same thing as non-teachers of color. They want to belong and they want to be surrounded by a system of support which meaningfully celebrates and honors who they are as people and as professionals. They are also faced with many more choices than other teachers. It is therefore crucial that we create an environment that truly celebrates diversity as a verb. Recruiting teachers of colors along with promoting a culturally responsive organization then becomes the priority. While VSD has significantly increased its minority hires over the last eight years, it is still not enough. Our values-based model of recruitment and retention holds the same for all potential candidates. We want to hire GREAT teachers. Certainly our marketing strategy of developing great materials, training personable recruiters, working the floor, using values-based interview are all ingredients that have assisted us in the process. A most successfuly strategy to develop great minority administrators has been to specifically use our values-based recruitment model and immediately develop the leadership skills of potential of our teachers of color.

Question from Anne Bishop, Division Head, The Fay School:

I am interested to know about successful mentoring practices. I am asked at nearly every perspective teacher interview about our mentoring program. We do have one, but I’d happily engage in conversation with others about their mentoring programs. Thanks!

Ed Wilgus:

Research tells us that the quality of mentoring varies widely and that under certain conditions, mentoring may be associated with increased new teacher satisfaction and retention. Successful mentoring practices embrace the following. 1) They must be systemic and linked to the cycle of teacher recruitment, selection, induction, and on-going professional development. In other words, it should be programmatic while carefully defining the critical elements of a successful mentor program which incorporate full-time mentors. 2) Selection of mentors is crucial to building teacher success. Teachers new to the profession both want and desire a relationship with a trusted colleague who creates a sense of belonging and understands the developmental needs of the individual. 3) Successful mentors regularly hone their skills and are provided well thought out trainings that prepare them for future leadership opportunities. In essence, mentoring can develop leadership skills that prepare for leadership advancement in the profession, which is exactly what the millennial teacher wants. 4) They must be results-oriented thus being able to produce evidence that the mentoring program/process is truly making a difference in the life of the teacher, a school, a district. Sharing hard data success with stakeholders thereby enables mentoring programs to flourish and become sustainable.

Question from Brad Parker, Assistant Principal, Vista Grande Elementary School, Rio Rancho Public Schools, NM:

What “generational priorities” research was accessed in formulating their strategies?

Ed Wilgus:

Several studies were most significant. Certainly the monumental Millenial Studies Research from Northwestern Mutual because they surveyed teachers over time. It surveyed professions as well as attitudes. Along with this research on the millenials, Susan Moore Johnson from Harvard, Finders and Keepers, along with Who Stays in Teaching and Why which was published by AARP. A final study is entitled Lesson Learned: New Teachers Talk About Their Jobs, Challenges and Long-Range Plans published by the National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality. Many of above studies and research is easily available online.

Anthony Rebora (Moderator):

FYI. A number of the studies Ed mentions above are available from Susan Moore Johnson’s group, the Project on the Next Generation of Teachers:

Question from Sandy Fuerte, Professional Development Coordinator, Fresno Pacific University, Fresno, California:

Is most of your professional development in-house or do you partner with other institutions of higher education to provide training to your employees?

Ed Wilgus:

Districts across the country, hopefully, share a common ideal with teaching institutions to collaboratively deliver high quality, job-imbedded professional development. As the recent Levine Report infers, this all too often is more of a dream than a reality. An understanding of the specific job market by universities is crucial to the pipeline of matching openings with qualified candidates. Best practice would dictate that professional development…to be fully-integrated, needs to be tied to a robust teacher competency model (understood and embraced by BOTH district and universities) which specifically defines components of GREAT teaching. This same model also guides recruitment, selection, and induction. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it also became a template for university coursework? In VSD, our professional development is two-fold...both in-house (tied to teacher, district, building needs) AND in collaboration with colleges and universities to support certification, horizontal and vertical leadership, and ever-evolving teacher needs. As education becomes more global, it is becoming increasingly evident that collaboration with universities is crucial to teacher development even more-so after teachers initiate their career when they are becoming more aware of what they don’t know in order to be successful. Many districts are beckoning universities to be actively involved in expanded teacher certification, joint district-university instruction, focused programs (i.e. literacy certification, technology), interactive trainings, real-life teaching training needs. Our program has been developed with these issues in mind.

Question from Rebecca Parker, Teacher Preparation Consultant, California Commission on Teacher Credentialing:

Please describe the role of the teachers’ bargaining unit in developing and implementing these changes. Thank you.

Lee Goeke:

Obviously, for those of us in a CBA environment, it is critical. Our agreement before we started the huge replacment favored the long-standing teacher well into his/her career over the new teacher in most ways - compensation, assignment choice, classroom choice, professional development, etc.....we needed to gain the agreement and support of the teachers’ association as to how critical changes were going to be if we were going to engage the new generation of teachers. Fortunately, our association recognized that this was paramount to their future as still took 3 years to completely re-bargin the critical portions....Lee

Question from John Fitzgerald, Fellow, Minnesota 2020:

How many applications do you see for upper level math and science openings? What is your retention rate for these positions? Do you offer incentives for to recruit math and science teachers?

Lee Goeke:

I wish I could say that we have universal success across the math and science area, but we don’t. Obviously, the competetion with the private sector is even greater here than it is in the elemtary and mid levels. However, how we enter the labor market and address issues that disuade people from education become even greater......I can say that our retention rate is equally high even though our ratio of candidates to selections (usually 1:20 for Vancouver) is more like 1:5...Lee

Question from Hayes Mizell, Distinguished Senior Fellow, National Staff Development Council:

Please talk about how the district has changed professional development explicitly for the purpose of helping retain teachers. How is this purpose related to or different from p.d.'s purpose of improving teachers’ instruction and its impact on student performance?

Ed Wilgus:

In prior years, PD was done exclusively through curriculum as the team addressed new changes in textbooks, training to utilize materials, etc. Most school districts function in this manner. When HR was reorganized, PD came under HR. The philosophy recognized that PD was more than curriculum, it had to do with certification, endorsements, literacy, instructional practice, ethical and legal issues, collaboration and teaming. What also evolved was a great teacher competency model which was used not only to recruit and hire teachers, but to retain and develop them over time. Professional development then emenated from this model as teachers developed a professional growth plan and the district delivered in relevant and integrated PD.

Question from Alan Nathan - Grad Student UW Madison:

How do you see the increased recruiting efforts by districts such as Vancouver impacting the ability of other, less resource rich area to attract and retain educators?

Ed Wilgus:

This is also a great question. We are doing work with other districts who don’t enjoy some of the benefits of Vancouver in terms of geography, reputation, community support, etc.....what we have found is that the most effective interventions don’t necessarily cost more (i.e., administrator support)...but what seems most important is being very upfront and candid about the distractions (i.e., poverty rates, mobility rates of students, discipline and attendance rates) and then being equally responsive by showing program as being in place to help teachers deal with these challenges....hence, adding money to professional development, more mentors, etc...isn’t the only high impact response...Lee

Question from Jane Kennedy:

How is the program funded? Was an increase in taxes necessary?

Ed Wilgus:

When the mentoring/induction program was initiated, there was a budget of less than $30K. We recognized that a vision needed to be created that was based on sound research. Programs throughout the district came to the table of dialogue and managers openly shared their funding. As the district gradually recognized and embraced the research and best-practices, sound funding came into place. At present, there are 5 full time mentors whose responsibility is not just to mentoring new teachers, but to system-wide professional development for all employees

Question from david bertroch, teacher, washoe county school dist:

does your salary schedule permit new, or not so new, teachers to actually purchase and live in decent, housing close to their school sites? thank you

Lee Goeke:

Yes, we have a state-wide salary system that ranges roughly from 34,000 to 60,000...that is augmented through local levy enhancements by about $3000 per year......Vancouver/Portland is a reasonably high cost area - actually, among the highest after the Seattle/Puget Sound, we have to work harder than many of our WA/OR districts who have significantly lower COL rates. We do have partnerships with the credit union to help teachers with new home loans......we also are very favorable to recruiting teaching teams (friends) who are interested in coming to Vancouver together and sharing in the cost...Obviously a huge challenge for all of us.....we try to remain optimistic by again recognizing that if we address the things we can control we can better deal with the things that we can’t....Lee

Question from Beth, teacher:

With a record number of applicants for teaching positions, what makes a candidate stand out to you?

Lee Goeke:

We use what we have coined as “Values-Based” Recruitment...our entire emphasis is on commitment, passion, advocacy, energy, enthusiasm, collegiality, etc....we spend very little time on transcripts, gpa’s, work history......we certainly look at those later, but the “stand out from the crowd criteria” is the values....besides which, we can teach alot after we hire a teacher, but we can’t teach the, need to get those up front....even though they are harder to “measure.” Lee

Question from Penny Benz, Assistant Superintendent HR, Keller ISD Texas:

Please explain the following statement. I don’t understand how you have “replaced 70 percent” but have a 91% retention. Thank you.

Ed Wilgus:

Our values-based recruitment model was initiated 10 years ago. At that time, issues related to teacher retention and teacher performance and discipline. In studying our work force, we also realized that we were facing a significant retirement window. This accumulated total comes out to the replacement of 70% of the workforce being relatively new. Since the new model was initiated, but cumulative retention was hovered at the 90% rate.

Question from Beth D. Bader, University of North Caolina-Chapel Hill:

How did you approach the roles and attitudes of administrators in your work? The research of Susan Moore Johnson, the Center for Teacher Quality, and others indicates that relations between building administrators and teachers are key factors in teacher job dissatisfaction. Did your work provide any interventions to change negative relations and develop or promote positive relations?

Ed Wilgus:

Our administrators were very frustrated with the quality of teachers hired in the past and as a result the retention rate which was about 50% after one year....I’m talking pre 1998. They were so frustrated, that they were willing to give up a lot of their building level discretion in hiring if we could dramatically impact the quality of the pool. Once they saw that we could do that, they realized they too needed to change if they were to keep the teachers - they were equally aware of what schools had the highest transfer in and transfer out rates......from that point, getting them to come together as a team (34 principals) and develop a leadership compentency model that focused on the skills and behaviors that would retain the teachers was pretty easy......Lee

Question from Walt Gardner, education writer:

By not breaking down your recruitment and retention rate by areas of the district, it’s impossible to know how successful your approach has been in schools in poor areas of the city that serve disadvantaged students. How do the rates in these schools compare with the rates in other schools in the district?

Lee Goeke:

As part of our NCLB reporting and analysis we compared the preparation and quality of teachers by Title eligible schools (about half the district) and non-title schools. We found that we actually had higher quality by many measures in the title schools than in the non-title...especially when we looked at such indicators as classroom teachers with reading and ESL endorsements who were teaching grade level, also master’s degrees in content areas at high school, etc..... We believe that if we can take away the distraction and barriers to success in the high risk areas by giving our teachers more tools and techniques to overcome the barrieres, they are actually more attracted to the high need schools...not surprising given why so many of them enter the profession....Lee

Comment from Frank Lambert, Counselor, Stafford County Schools:

A new generation of teachers will have great demands put upon them with high expectations. To attract new teachers into today’s classroom, schools and communities will have to make some changes in what they are willing to do for those teachers. Higher starting salaries must be followed by a realistic pay scale that does not leave teachers with 10 years of experience making 25% more than starting teachers. Elementary teachers will need full time aides in their classrooms to meet the demands put upon them. These same teachers need more planning time to work as a team with their grade levels. All of these things mean higher costs to communities. Are they willing to pay the price?

Question from Vicki Rossolo, Dirctor of New Teacher Program, Elko County School District:

Do you have a coaching program for teachers new to your district? If so, what does it look like?

Ed Wilgus:

Vicki...we have a systemic mentor program for teachers new to the district, which includes those new to the profession AND the district. This program/mentoring is required for ALL new hires and runs from 1-2 years, depending in individualized teacher needs. Coaches also exist in the district at individual building levels. Their expertise is content! Our mentor train has provided training for them to promote effective dialogue with those in need of assistance.

Question from Patti Tussey, Exec. Director for HR, Cave Creek Unified School District:

Realizing that different parts of the country may utilize different methods of attracting and supporting new teachers, can you share what you have found to be the top two methods of attracting new teachers and the top two methods for supporting them? What indicators have you used to see what support methods have attributed to retention of new teachers beyond 3-5 years?

Lee Goeke:

We really believe in controlling the applicant pool rather than having the pool control us....therefore, we don’t invite unsolicited resumes except in very hard to fill areas. We do very carefully select our recruiting venues after doing a great deal of research on the colleges in the area....we then focus on presenting ourselves at fairs and on-campus in a way that stands out and apart from other disticts.....i.e., the presence of the team, the quality of our exhibits and the story they tell, and how engaging we are.....this usually gives Vancouver one of the longest lines of candidates of our neighbors at the fairs. Then we try hard to communicate the same values that we are looking for in the teachers using our values-based recruiting’s not unusual for teachers to hang around our team and form closer relationships, and its not unusual to get comments like “I feel like I found friends rather than interviews.” Of cousrse, we have to live up to this when they come to Vancouver....Incidentally, we make no job offers at career fairs. Rather, we create enough enthusiasm for Vancouver that the candidates we pick as the best will invest to come to Vancouver for an on-site day... We survey our new teachers at the beginning and end of each year and have done so for many years...we ask them what brought them here and what will keep them here. Hands down, the consistent top reponses are the quality of adminsitrators, the quality of mentors, and the quality of professional development.......and the building of relationships. Lee

Question from Bernard Platt, HR Specialist, Virginia Beach City Public Schools:

I would like to learn more about your “values based recruitment model”. Would it be possible to provide a bulleted list of strategies/components?

Lee Goeke:

We don’t have something to pop up on your screen, but if you email us at or, we’ll be happy to get something back to you. We do have a great one page summary and some articles, but not in a format that I can copy them into the chat....Lee

Question from Joe Gervase, Community Investment, United Way (Hartford, CT):

What was the starting point referenced in replacing 70 percent of full-time teachers?

Lee Goeke:

The most important, and probably most obvious, thing we have done is to acknowledge that retention happens by design and not by chance. When we studied the research on why teachers leave, we recognized that we couldn’t do a great deal about the compensation issue – at least not in the near term. Therefore we targeted the most common reasons after money and that led us to (1) quality of administrator support, (2) student behavior and discipline, and (3) student motivation, and (4) faculty influence. We believed that if we could change these 4, we could at least lessen the significance of money. So, we developed a new competency model for administrators that aligned with our competency model for a great teacher – this helped train administrators, direct their energy, and meet teachers’ expectations of support. Similarly, we significantly increased training of teachers in classroom management and intervention strategies, as well as tools for dealing with at-risk factors that impact motivation (i.e., poverty, culture, etc.). When we survey first year teachers, they speak to this type of support as reasons why they stay. As to the second part of the question, we believe that teachers don’t enter the profession fearful of these at-risk barriers and characteristics, but they do leave the profession if they aren’t given the tools to overcome them and be successful with children. Lee

Question from David Frydman, Principal, Clark County School District:

Do you find that the universities are doing enough to prepare new teachers to the realities of teaching? How do you address this problem in your district?

Ed Wilgus:

No, the universities aren’t doing enough AND the districts aren’t doing enough.....we need to dramatically improve our partnership if we are really going to change th professiona. We spent two days on this topic at the national AAEE conference in Savannah in November with University placement officers and district HR’s really hard to get everyone to recognize that we need to stop competeting among ourselves for a limited pool and begin to work together. The reality is that in today’s teaching environment there are few competencies that can be learned exclusively at the university or at the district....most all take a combination and we need to recognize that and then understand what dimension best comes from which source...Lee

Question from Grace Murdock New Teacher Mentor/Consultant Wicomico County Public Schools:

What argument will most likely convince districts to fund a mentoring program?

Ed Wilgus:

All one has to do is to review the research and create a compelling presentation that articulates the implications of the research. Selling stakeholders is crucial and their involvement most necessary.

Question from Byron Lawson Jr, Dir. of Faculty Recruitment, St. MArk’s School of Texas:

I have been recruiting independent school teachers for over 10 years now and I think this new crop of educators (30 and under)want to lead and to be professional educators (change agents), even if they are unprepared to do so. Having flipped your faculty, do you find this to be the case?

Lee Goeke:

Wonderful observation. We agree....and we need to be much more innovative in our employment relationship to give them those leadership opportunities - that defines much of the millenials.....We often look at pay-for-performance debates and wonder about pay-for-leadership alternatives...Lee

Question from Kate Cushing, Director of Operations, Roads to Success:

What are the major reasons that teachers leave the system and what are the changes, both at the school level and at a larger policy level, that will encourage them to stay?

Ed Wilgus:

Teachers leave the profession for a variety of reasons. Certainly pay and benefits are a factor. But what about all those other things that at some level we can control: difficult work assignments, unclear expectations, resources, isolation, reality shock, building leadership, school and district culture. Districts need to create programs, then, that mitigate these factors.

Question from Dr. Tom King, Adjunct Professor Education, University of St. Thomas:

You can’t retain teachers if you aren’t retaining students. Regardless, where will districts get the funds to initiate programs like Vancouver? Right now, they can hardly afford paper and books.

Ed Wilgus:

It is not as expensive as it seems. You start by informing your school board that the cost of loosing ONE teacher has been estimated minimally at 35-50K!!!! Districts also have access to other internal funding. The key is prioritization! Working collaboratively with the resources within can help buid and sustain a program.

Question from Shelly Landgraf, Director of Human Resources, Boulder Valley School District:

What percentage of your new teachers are hired from out of state recruiting fairs?

Lee Goeke:

We very intentionally target (and usually achieve) a hire ratio where 25% of our teachers are from Vancovuer area, 20% from elsewhere in WA state, 20% from Oregon (also our backyard) and 35% from around the nation and, in some case, internationally....we consciously go for this mix for richness of experience. It supports us hiring the top 5% and lot lowering the bar, and it pays off for our teachers and our students, even though we are sometimes cricized for not doing more hiring in the northwest...lEE

Question from Eileen Glassmire, Science Department Chair, Valwood School, GA:

What sorts of faculty evaluation techniques seem to be the most effective at encouraging good faculty to stay at a school while filtering out those who may not be a good fit at a particular institution?

Lee Goeke:

We really appreciate this question....evaluation is an area of rather dismal failure in public education. We abandoned our tranditional end-of-year, snap-shot in time evaluation around pedagogy (ITIP), and went to a teacher self-assessment system which drives professional development and does so against a great teacher competency model...we then build our professional development program around the self-assessment results. We use an observation and evaluation methodology that helps validate the self-assessment and the impact of professional development. This is a significant departure from the more traditional use of evaluation which focuses on failing performance and the small percentage of teachers who need to be released. Lee

Question from Penny Benz Assistant Supt, Keller ISD Texas:

You referenced “Values Based” recruitment practices. Do you utilize a specific tool to screen from 4,000 to the few with whom you choose to do a face to face interview.

Ed Wilgus:

We do,we call it the “Art and Science” of high quality teacher consist of multipled engagements with interviewers who are skilled in values-recognition. Each engagement evolves around a different set of prompts which are intended to drive the responses to the values and to provide a cross-validation of responses among isn’t easy, it we do a lot of adminstrator training to get the results....but it does overcome the inherent barrier in assessing values which is the lack of tagible measures....Lee

Question from Penny Benz, Asst Supt HR Keller ISD Texas:

Was all of your turnover due to voluntary resignation/retirement or did you have a process in place to remove teachers that did not buy in to the new philosophy?

Lee Goeke:

We do have a process for the teacher’s who don’t meet the bar. However, we have relatively few of those situations since changing to values-based recruitment...actually, as we replaced what is over 70% of our teachers, we reduced performance and discipline issues by the 80%.....our loss problem now is family and maternity...very little of giving up on the profession, moving to anoither district, etc...Lee

Anthony Rebora (Moderator):

That’s all the time we have today. I hope discussion gave you some new ideas on this crucial issue. Thanks to Ed Wilgus and Lee Goeke for sharing their knowledge. And thanks to all of those who submitted questions. They were very substantive. A complete transcript of the chat will be available shortly on and

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