The Crisis No One Is Fixing: Our Schools Lose More Teachers Than They Keep

Baby boomers are retiring in droves, so figuring out how to attract and retain new educators is the key to avoiding a crisis in the nation’s classrooms.
May 15, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Tasbeeh Herwees is a journalist and writer from Los Angeles. She has written for Good Magazine, The Majalla, TruthDig, L.A. Currents, and others.

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In the next decade or so, America’s public schools will lose a million educators—about half of all teachers. It’s an impending crisis that has many educators, policy makers, and politicians across the country concerned. Not only are schools losing veteran teachers to retirement, but they are also having trouble keeping new educators in the classroom and attracting students to the profession. Many aspiring educators, such as 21-year old UCLA graduate Rafi Silva, have expressed reluctance to enter the profession at all.

Silva is featured in the film The Road to TEACH, a documentary that followed him and two other millennials on a cross-country journey to explore the teaching profession. The three recent college graduates traveled around the U.S. and interviewed some of the nation’s best educators. Although Silva, who is the son of two doctors, is interested in becoming a teacher, his parents have concerns about his pursuit of the profession, and he does too.

“In my education classes, there’s a lot of talk about teacher burnout. You know, the average is about five years,” says Silva in the film. “To me, that doesn’t sound like enough time to be a career. I want this to be something that I could do for the rest of my life.”

Silva’s fears are not unfounded. America’s educational system has a glaring teacher-retention deficiency. A report released in 2014 by the Alliance for Excellent Education found that about half a million teachers leave the profession each year. Some of them leave for jobs with better pay. Some find themselves at odds with their school administration or the school district. Others end up working in poorly managed schools where they aren’t provided with sufficient support. Ellen Moir, the founder and CEO of the New Teacher Center, says part of the problem is that teachers are not set up to succeed.

“Typically new teachers get the hardest assignments at the toughest schools, they get a sink-or-swim introduction to the profession, and then they quit,” she says.

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The New Teacher Center, however, is one organization that is making an effort to reform the system. The national nonprofit aims to improve student learning and increase teacher retention by pairing up new teachers with expert teachers. The experts are trained and equipped to mentor and support new teachers through their first few years in the profession.

“As a profession, you really honor and value your teachers, you support their growth and development, you pay them a salary that makes good sense, and you don’t hit them over the head with a hammer,” says Moir. “I would like to see every teacher in America, regardless of whatever zip code they teach in, get solid instructional support for a mentor and also emotional support.”

New teachers, says Moir, arrive to the profession with incredible enthusiasm and a steadfast will to change students’ lives. It’s the kind of motivation Silva exhibits in The Road to TEACH. By the end of the film, he is no longer beginning his sentences with “if” when talking about his future as an educator; he is using the word “when.” Given his newfound conviction about becoming a teacher, let’s hope Silva has the mentors he needs to keep him in the classroom.