When it comes to the No Child Left Behind legislation, the news media has concentrated on test scores and the issue of students leaving their schools to go elsewhere. Largely ignored in all this is the provision requiring every child to have a "highly qualified" teacher in their class, no matter where they move. But, the problem isn’t just finding good teachers, as the Christian Science Monitor points out it’s also keeping them.
But in much of the country, teacher attrition statistics remain downright shocking: Almost a third of teachers leave the field within their first three years and half before their fifth year, according to a NCTAF [National Commission on Teaching & America’s Future] report. In the 1990s, for the first time, the number of teachers leaving the profession exceeded the number entering. While it is true that many babyboomers who entered the profession in the 1960s are retiring, veterans at the end of their career account for only about a quarter of departures. Most of the rest of those jumping ship are newcomers.
While some might speculate it’s all about the money, that we need to pay teachers more, that’s not the largest issue. Schools systems for the most part don’t provide teachers with much support during their first five years in the profession when they are learning their craft. Unlike doctors, lawyers, even accountants, new teachers usually begin their careers with little support on the job and are expected from day one to perform as well (ie. get their students to score high on the standardized tests) as the veterans. Many times new teachers also are assigned the most difficult schedules and students, the ones who most need good teachers.
Mentoring programs can help a great deal by providing some of the support and training new teachers need. However, many systems (including the one I work for) spend too little on these programs, despite many studies showing the best of them can result in large jumps in teacher retention. In the end, money spent mentoring teachers produces good educators who stay in the profession. Sounds like money well spent.