Experts highlight strategies for teacher retention

As schools continue to struggle to staff classrooms and retain newer educators, an April 26 panel discussion hosted by EdSource highlighted several potential solutions: Increase pay, reduce bureaucratic paperwork and provide systemwide support with the help of mentors.

Experts reflected on the many challenges new teachers face, especially teachers of color, and what districts could do to help them grow and remain in the classroom.

“Currently, 85 percent of teachers are considering a job change — it’s a stunning number,” said Tommy Chang, chief executive officer of the New Teacher Center, citing a recent Education Week survey. “The top two reasons, pay and workload. And there are other reasons, including lack of support. We all know teachers are tired, they’re burnt out. They’re being asked to do more things than they’ve ever done, and in challenging conditions.”

Noting that financial stress is a common factor in high turnover rates, everyone agreed that higher pay is a critical and common-sense step, especially in regions where the cost of living is higher. In addition to raising pay, panelists discussed ways the state and districts could cover costs associated with obtaining a credential, expand student loan forgiveness programs, offer housing stipends and pay student teachers for their work while they’re still in school.

Strong mentorship and guidance as they navigate the transition from student teacher to heading up their own classroom full time is also crucial.

Asked what district leaders can do to make teachers want to stay, Jenna Hewitt King, a high school teacher in San Leandro Unified School District in her sixth year, said, “For me, the biggest thing is support. But support can’t work unless it’s consistent. My induction coach met with me every Tuesday no matter what. And she observed every two weeks no matter what. The support that I got was consistent, and that doesn’t happen everywhere for most new teachers,”

Julie Sheldon, induction coordinator for the Walnut Valley Induction Consortium, agreed that consistency is important, but noted that it also “has to be systemwide support … where the new teacher is brought into the culture of the school and the district.”

The six-district Walnut Valley Consortium — comprising Rowland USD, Hacienda La Puente USD, East Whittier City SD, South Whittier SD, Whittier City SD and Walnut Valley USD — has long worked to address these issues at the root: preparation through high-quality induction, free of cost to new teachers.

Through induction programs, new teachers are assigned a mentor for their first two years to offer the support needed to be successful. As soon as someone is hired with a preliminary credential within the six districts, Sheldon matches them with a mentor, ideally on the same campus, in their subject area for materials, guidance, lesson plans, support and who can advocate on their behalf.

However, she said, a mentor cannot be the be all end all if a new teacher is to succeed.

“I like to say, ‘your mentor is the brightest star in the sky but not your only one. It’s an entire universe of support, of people to collaborate with who are in your grade level or subject area,’” Sheldon said. “If there’s truly systematic support, then [new] teachers will be allowed to focus on their classroom, and on their students and learning their craft, not being asked to take on those additional roles of being on curriculum committees or coaching teams. It has to be systemwide — that support needs to be something that is built into the district vision and culture.”