Teacher Turnover: Breaking the Cycle

Carlyn Coffey
Carlyn Coffey

June 08, 2022

It’s common knowledge that no matter the wonderful educational experiences provided to them, many students would be all too excited to dash from their classrooms given the chance. While students aren’t typically allowed to perform such exits from their schools, administrators are all too familiar with the high churn rates of talented teachers walking out of their doors for good.

Since the 1990s, the ratio of teachers exiting their profession to entering has steadily increased, with teacher attrition climbing 50% in the last 15 years. In fact, almost 25% of bright, shiny, new public school teachers entirely leave their chosen profession within three years of entrance. What’s caused these turnover and complete attrition rates to skyrocket?

The turnover that schools experience isn’t random. Highly motivated educators consistently leave schools with poor-performing students for schools with higher-performing students, which also generally have more funding. This exacerbates the difference in educational opportunities across schools and widens the student achievement gap, though all schools suffer from the high rates of turnover experienced nationwide.

The Real Costs of Teacher Turnover

Churn is an expensive problem. The National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF) calculates that public school teacher turnover alone costs our nation’s schools $7.3 billion per year. Many school leaders mistakenly believe that turnover keeps costs lower because newer teachers are often paid lower salaries. This belief ignores the realities of monetary costs associated with recruitment, hiring, and training, not to mention the cost of diminishing student achievement in schools staffed with largely inexperienced educators with no tenured mentors to guide them.

According to NCTAF, the cost to a school each time a teacher leaves ranges from $4,366 to $17,872. It’s clear why this creates a terrible cycle in schools with low funding.

Common Misconceptions About Why Teachers Leave

It’s tempting to point to retirement to explain attrition rates. While Baby Boom retirements were a problem that former U.S. Secretary of Education, Richard W. Riley, sought to address, less than 20% of current attrition is due to retirement.

Another myth used to explain high turnover is that teachers make their exit due to unsatisfactory salary rates. However, studies show that this cannot explain even a sizable amount of lost teachers, with 0.7% of teachers in one study citing poor salary as their main area of dissatisfaction upon leaving the profession.

Why Teachers Stop Teaching

1. Lack of Recognition and Support

    What truly explains mass teacher churn, if not retirement and unsatisfactory salary? Studies have shown that, of teachers who leave their jobs out of dissatisfaction, the primary reason for this dissatisfaction was typically a lack of recognition and support from their administration.

    Great teachers want to work at schools where they can be certain of both appreciation and support for their work. Additional research about the connections between teacher retention and school factors in New York City showed that, “Teachers’ perceptions of the school administration have by far the greatest influence on teacher retention rates.”

    2. Lack of Professional Development

      Recognition and support most often manifest themselves as professional development opportunities for teachers, explaining why schools that keep good teachers also commonly invest in teacher instructional growth. School districts that connect experts with beginning teachers for coaching opportunities, including Rochester, New York, and Cincinnati, Columbus, and Toledo, Ohio, have experienced a more than two-thirds reduction in teacher exit rates.

      Keeping great teachers means paying attention to what teachers care about, and educators, of all people, understand the value of continued education. It makes sense that teachers feel disparaged when they themselves receive no learning opportunities.

      3. Student Discipline Problems

        Another common teacher-cited reason for dissatisfaction in their careers and for subsequent attrition is student behavior concerns.

        Imagine this scenario:

        A first-year teacher enters a classroom with very little classroom management experience.

        They receive no support or professional development from administrators or experienced educators to help them grow in this skill. They find a position open at a higher-funded school (which is also experiencing teacher turnover) with slightly more motivated students, and leave their current position.

        Students, meanwhile, travel from grade level to grade level with inexperienced teachers who are given no growth opportunities.

        Address Teacher Turnover

        All three of these common causes of teacher turnover can be addressed by rejecting the idea that teachers know everything they will need to know for the remainder of their careers on their very first day. Introducing programs that support continual professional growth for all teachers in a school, build and deepen teacher knowledge, and create communities among teachers to encourage dialogue about best practices has been shown to decrease teacher turnover by 50%.

        As for the financial benefit? One study by the New Teacher Center discovered that each dollar spent on such comprehensive programs made a return of $1.66.

        Now imagine a new scenario:

        New teachers are coached on what they do well and how they can grow in their teaching practices by administrators and other mentors within the school system.

        These professional development opportunities help them feel recognized for their good work and supported in improving their practice.

        Their improved performances, especially if classroom management techniques are included in the recommendations from coaches, result in improved student outcomes and student behavior.

        The Best Teacher Coaching Approach

        Getting started with teacher coaching does not (and should not) look like the days of teacher observation past. You know, the approach that includes an observer sitting in the back of a classroom with a written rubric, who misses most of a teacher’s practice because they’re looking down at their paper to write during more than 50% of the lesson.

        That approach introduces all kinds of bias due to that which an observer didn’t catch. Furthermore, the old-fashioned-written-observation route rarely allows the teacher adequate self-reflection. We humans tend to remember our past performance as falsely worse or better than it actually was. Instead of a collaborative coaching experience, written observation rubrics construct an environment that stakes one educator’s word against another’s, and makes everyone feel dejected with little improvement gained.

        The simple solution is video coaching, which allows all parties to actually see the actions a teacher performs. With this approach, mentors and teachers can collaborate on growth opportunities that are identified together, allowing for both self-reflection and constructive feedback. The more we engage teachers as learners, the better their classroom practices will become.


        Enhance teacher coaching with Vosaic.

        Vosaic, a video platform for teacher coaching, helps to facilitate the process of professional development for teachers. In every classroom, important learning moments go unnoticed. Vosaic helps observers record, identify, and share those moments with easy-to-use video analysis software. Users can create feedback forms based on best-practice frameworks like Danielson’s or can create their own to best suit their specific goals. Important moments can then be marked using the created form as a video is being recorded, or after. Finally, comments can be added to provide feedback and videos can be shared for review.

        If you don't have a Vosaic account for teacher coaching and observation, you can start with a free trial today.

        Find Instructional Coaches

        According to a Gallup study, 60% of voluntary teacher turnover occurred because educators found positions with better career opportunities or development. The need for professional development opportunities and instructional coaching for teachers is urgent, but the cost of a full-time coach can exceed $60,000.

        Another option is to look into FACTS Ed Coaching: a fully customizable professional development program. Coaching through FACTS is the low-cost, high-value solution for teacher coaching. Their focus is to support students by recognizing teachers’ strengths and improving their quality of instruction. Furthermore, they can help access Title funding to cover the cost of coaching. To get started visit FACTS Education Solutions Coaching.

        A Final Note

        Address teacher turnover by providing growth opportunities for the teachers at your school. If educators feel supported and recognized for their efforts, their improvement will pay dividends; both monetarily and in the form of student achievement.

        Start Using Video with Vosaic for Free

        Getting Started With Video Toolkit (PDF).

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