Does Teacher Retention Matter?

Yes, it does. Here are five reasons why.

1. Teachers who have previous experience with that grade or course are more effective teachers.
It is an accepted truth (backed up with evidence) that experienced teachers are more effective teachers. Some studies find this improvement plateaus after the first few years, others find continuous improvement throughout a teacher’s career. You could argue that schools could simply hire experienced teachers; there is no need to retain them. However, experience with a specific grade or course matters more than general teaching experience; teachers hired to a new school will not necessarily teach the same grade or course as they did at their old school, or even the same curriculum (especially for international teachers).

2. Happy teachers are better teachers; retention is a proxy measure for teacher happiness and stress.
Stressed, depressed and emotionally exhausted teachers are less effective. Addressing the causes of high teacher turnover is one way to target the causes of teacher stress.

​3. Children need structure and predictability.
I remember, in elementary school, thinking about the teachers I would have in the higher grades. In Grade 5, I would have either Ms. R or Mrs. Q. In Grade 6, Mr. Z, or maybe Ms. K. We moved up through the grades; the teachers stayed. In a school with high turnover, that element of predictability is lost. There is no opportunity for students to build bonds with teachers from multiple grade levels. Additionally, parents also seek that predictability, especially if their child has specific needs: “Which teacher will my child have next year?”

4. Training, mentorship and professional development become more necessary and more repetitive.
If a school has a lot of new teachers each year, then the school has a lot of teachers who need to be orientated, trained on the school’s approach, and integrated into the school’s culture, every year. Perhaps the school has a particular system for behaviour management, is a big believer in Understanding By Design, or uses a certain online learning management system for all the courses. These new teachers need to be trained in these, while, at the same time, there are fewer returning teachers to serve as mentors and support. As well, PD focuses on teaching these basics, rather than building on an established skill set.

5. Good schools are built in layers, over time, through collaboration among staff.
Creating vertical and horizontal alignment among the curriculum. Establishing and planning annual events. Building a vibrant extra-curricular program. These are all projects that take years to see to completion. If, every year, many teachers leave and are replaced, progress is lost, and the final products are disjointed and fragmented.

It is true that, in international schools, teachers eventually move on. However, if teacher turnover is high, the problem is much deeper than a teacher’s sense of adventure. Schools, whether public or private, government or international, should care about teacher retention, if they care about student learning.

What can be done to keep good teachers? 

Teacher turnover and retention is a problem at the institutional level, not the classroom or student level, and therefore solutions need to be found and led by the administration in schools. Administrators can think about:

  • What are some potential causes of teacher stress and burnout?
  • Is teacher workload reasonable?
  • What does administration provide for academic and behavioral support?
  • Are teachers respected and valued as professionals?
  • What opportunities for professional development are available?
  • How can we build a sense of community in the school?

Good schools are made through good teachers. Schools should prioritize finding, developing and keeping these educators.

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