Teacher Retention: Are Stayers and Leavers Really Different?

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Teacher turnover is common in hard-to-staff schools, with retirements, family changes, and personal challenges influencing the staying and leaving of teachers. While percentages vary from school to school, researchers generally suggest that some turnover is healthy but too much can destabilize an institution.

Our hard-to-staff school is shifting to teachers arranging lesson plans supporting the Common Core Standards. All teachers in the district recently completed three days of professional development emphasizing the CCSS. English and Math will continue to be emphasized – now in all classes. The 2013-2014 school year will also include a WASC accreditation study and visit.

Ironically, six of nine English teachers in our school will not return in August. Unrelated, the school district just moved administrators around in the district (an annual event). Two of the five administrators will stay. Two of the positions will be filled with beginning administrators (less than five years of experience). There is one vacancy.

My first thought turned to the top sixty students. The AP English students will be greeted with a different teacher than they expect. Some of these students will drop the course, while others will chatter for a few weeks about their new teacher. There is little doubt that the first few weeks of school will be disrupted as students and parents make decisions.

These recent resignations reminded me of results from a 2005 Florida based set of surveys which suggested that stayers and leavers have different focuses: Stayers were more concerned with pay and benefits, the emphasis on testing and accountability, and excessive paperwork. Leavers were more concerned with lack of administrative support and discipline.

Does this hold true at our school? Are stayers concerned with pay or will they be focused on how administration deals with the mass exodus of an important department? If surveyed, would the stayers admit that their own focuses are now influenced by the leavers? If you were the principal, how would you deal with the teacher and administrator turnover?