One of the five key areas identified in the National Council on Teacher Quality’s 2013 State Teacher Policy Yearbook is that states need to focus on is the retention of effective teachers. While there has been much discussion recently on how to evaluate who is an effective teacher, dismissing ineffective teachers, and compensating highly effective teachers, there has been limited discussion on ways to retain effective teachers aside from increasing compensation. While the NCTQ report does address performance pay and other compensation related solutions as ways to retain effective teachers, I will primarily focus on other aspects.
The NCTQ report found that effective induction for new teachers is critical for developing and retaining good teachers. Pairing new teachers with an experienced mentor who has shown evidence of their own subject-matter expertise and classroom effectiveness is critical, especially in high-need schools. This mentoring should happen frequently and should start during the first few weeks of school – a critical period for many new teachers. While the majority of states (31) have some law requiring mentoring of all new teachers, only nine require that the new teachers are mentored starting in the first weeks of the school year.
Professional development should also be a priority for schools that want to develop and retain effective teachers. As stated in CPE’s report Teaching the Teachers, teachers need to receive regular feedback on their teaching and have the opportunity to participate in professional development opportunities based on their own strengths and weaknesses. This is an area with a lot of potential for improvement, since currently only 31 states require that teacher evaluations help shape and inform professional development. This is disappointing since there is always more to learn, especially in a field that is evolving as rapidly as teaching. Even great teachers can benefit from professional development opportunities, and schools could show that they are making it a priority to retain these great teachers by providing them with professional development opportunities.
It is important to look for ways to retain great teachers that don’t necessarily involve increased compensation. The conversation about teacher retention has been too focused on performance pay recently. While this might incentivize some teachers to stay in a position longer than they were planning to, any public school teacher will tell you they’re not in it for the money. Giving teachers opportunities to gain new skills and further develop their craft while creating a supportive school culture should also provide a huge incentive for excellent teachers to stick around. Retaining these excellent teachers gives schools a larger pool of experienced educators who can intensively mentor incoming cohorts of new teachers, thus creating a culture of effective teaching. While there have been some changes in state policies in the last few years addressing the importance of these factors, there is still a lot of room for growth.