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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

How many teachers leave in the first five years? Half

From Naples

by Brittany Shammas

Nearly half of the teachers hired by the Lee County School District leave their jobs within five years of starting them, costing the district millions of dollars. More costly, though, may be what students lose: teachers with added experience, who have a stronger role in student improvement.

The consequences of this trend — which is consistent across the U.S. — are concerning to educators, who are reforming teacher preparation and support programs in an attempt to quell it.

"Let's say you have that teacher that in year five decides to leave," said Greg Adkins, director of human resources for the Lee district. "That's somebody who in year five might be at top of their game. That's a tremendous loss if you replace that person with a first year-teacher. That person has to do a lot to get caught up."

A high cost

Lee schools hired 790 teachers for the 2005-06 school year, Adkins said. By the start of the 2010-11 year, 47 percent were gone: Some had left the district, while others left teaching altogether.

The Collier County School District was unable to provide comparable numbers, but Debbie Terry, executive director of human resources for the district, said 19 percent of teachers hired in 2010 have left. Collier's retention figures are similar to national numbers, she said.

Nationally, about 14 percent of teachers leave after their first year and about half will be gone within five years, Adkins said. At the same time, the National Center for Education Statistics noted, the percentage of teachers who left a school is higher in the South than in the Midwest and Northeast.

Their departure, educators say, comes at a high cost for the school districts and the students they leave behind.

Gary Gordon, a Gallup researcher who has studied the matter, called it "perhaps the most important challenge facing schools today."

The average cost of replacing a teacher, including outprocessing and hiring fees, is about $15,000 nationally, Adkins said.

Multiply that by 400 for the approximate number of new Lee County teachers who left their jobs within five years and the result is "quite a significant number," Adkins said.

"You're talking about really a $6 million proposition there," he said.

What students lose is perhaps more concerning.

Michel Fortier/Staff Jackie Greene, professor of literacy at FGCU, gives feedback to Cierra McCoy, left, after the education major students worked with Veterans Memorial Elementary students earlier in the morning. Instead of working in a traditional classroom setting at the university, the class meets at the school where they also interact with students and apply theories and best practices learned in their own classroom.

Studies show that people who have been teaching for five or six years have a stronger effect on student improvement than those in their first year, Adkins said.

"It's not just cost of turnover, but also cost of what that person's experience brings to the classroom," he said.

Reasons for leaving

Some leave because of working conditions put in place by the principal, or because of a lack of support.Each of these issues was noted by Gordon, who suggested schools improve retention rates by building good working relationships between teachers and principals.

Pay is less often cited by teachers as a factor in their decision, Adkins said, though he has heard concerns about benefits. Some are frustrated at the amount of testing in the state and about the ties between teacher evaluations and testing, he said.

To a greater degree, the problem relates back to Florida being a highly mobile state. Often a person who moved here ends up leaving because their husband or wife lost or couldn't find a job, Adkins said. It's also not uncommon, Terry said, for a person to move here from a northern state and then leave because they don't have a support system here.

All of these concerns factored into Harrison Schultz's decision to leave his job teaching math at Ida S. Baker High School in Cape Coral. They were amplified by a feeling that his work wasn't appreciated.

"There's a lot of demands put on you and you don't really — you don't get that much out of it," said Schultz, 30, who left teaching this fall after five years on the job.

"I think there are many really, really good teachers and I think that in general, a lot of people are really undervalued and a lot of people will leave because they probably feel that."

Others don't get their contracts renewed because of performance issues.

But the biggest issue, Adkins and others say, may be a lack of on-the-job support or preparedness for teaching.

New teachers go through induction programs in both Lee and Collier counties before the start of the school year. State law requires that each school board adopt policies relating to support for first-time teachers, but provides no guidelines or requirements for such policies, said Eileen McDaniel, chief of the bureau of educator recruitment, development and retention for the Florida Department of Education.

In Lee and Collier counties, new teachers attend an orientation and may pass through several training sessions days before the start of the school year. They're assigned to a mentor teacher and, soon after, handed the keys to their classroom.

"Really, they kind of say, 'OK, well, here's a classroom; go for it,'" Schultz said.

The number of new teachers leaving the profession have some educators questioning whether schools should do more.

"When you're in your residency, they don't just turn you loose and let you operate and say, 'OK, I'll check in with you later,'" said Veterans Memorial Elementary Principal Tim Ferguson, referring to medical residents. "So why in teaching is it like that?"

Solving the problem

To improve retention rates, administrators are strengthening teacher preparation and support programs.

"We're losing teachers because we haven't prepared them enough with all the real-world stuff," Ferguson said.

Michel Fortier/Staff Veterans Memorial principal Tim Ferguson, left, talks about his own first time in a classroom teaching to a group of education majors from FGCU. Instead of working in a traditional classroom setting at the university, the class meets at the school where they also interact with students and apply theories and best practices learned through their own studies.

At Veterans Memorial Elementary in North Naples, Ferguson has borrowed from the medical model for a solution to retention issues, creating an environment where future teachers work alongside experienced teachers who support their learning process.

Through a partnership with Florida Gulf Coast University, the school serves as a professional development school for dozens of students in the College of Education.

While still in college, the students observe teachers at Veterans Memorial, and can take classes on-site. They complete five levels of internships that ease them into teaching.

"I didn't read a book then go into a classroom to teach," said FGCU student Jillian Edell, who is taking classes at Veterans Memorial. "I'm fully immersed."

In Lee County, school officials are expanding the role of mentor teachers, who are often seen as playing a significant role in retention, Adkins said. In the expanded mentorship program, which is expected to be implemented in the next two years, mentor teachers will help with lesson planning.

They'll visit classrooms of new teachers and give feedback on instruction. At the same time, new teachers will be able to observe and learn from the experienced teacher.

"We believe what we're going to have when we come out the other side in 2013-14 is going to be dramatically different in the way we support teachers," Adkins said.

To Schultz, who's now pursuing a new career, it's important that something change in order to recruit and retain good teachers.

"There's a few teachers in each school that really know what they're doing and really have a love for it," he said. "And I think you could attract many more people if you could offer them more."

Retention has been a long-term problem, Adkins said, because teacher preparation and support has gone virtually unchanged for decades.

"There hasn't been a lot of change in that since I came to the district 23 years ago," he said. "I went through (an induction) program, the principal gave me a set of keys and pointed me toward the classroom, and off I went."

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