A buzz of chatter filled the air of the teacher’s lounge as Charlotte and her colleagues heated up and ate their lunch, enjoying their limited free time before they had to go back to class. Though there was a gripping conversation about new teacher turnover going on at the table, Charlotte was focused on something else entirely; well, more like someone else.
New teacher turnover is something talked about in whispers but it’s a real increasing problem. I’ve seen so many new teachers leave the profession. As a teacher of 35+ years experience in different cultures and schools, I believe you and I and others can do simple things to stop this. More on that later. Let’s get back to our story.
A new face appeared in the staffroom—a blonde woman with a pair of glasses sitting nicely on the bridge of her nose. The woman sat reading a book silently and ate her meal. Despite the packed lounge, full of chattering teachers, she sat alone. Nobody made any moves to talk to her.
The blonde lady glanced around the room, anxiously gliding her eyes to everyone in the room before landing on Charlotte, who gently smiled at her. The woman, gratefully, returned the grin. But before Charlotte could ask her to accompany her and her work friends, their lunch break had been over. Though, she made a mental note to remember to approach the young woman the next time she spotted her.
Charlotte recalled meeting her in passing at the very first staff meeting, where the principal introduced her. If she remembered correctly, her name was Sophia Green and was in the math department like herself.
Sophia was a fresh, bright face. It was obvious that this had been her first few days at a new school. Since the beginning of the school year, Sophia had lost her bright glow. Instead, she seemed gloomy, tired, and distressed.
A pang of sympathy filled Charlotte’s heart as she reminisced on her first days of teaching – it had been difficult and demoralising as she had to learn how to navigate everything on her own.
In the beginning, she received very little to no support when she was hired as a teacher. It was incredibly stressful and almost put her off from returning for another year had it not been for a group of older teachers that took her under their wings. Now, if she could offer some help or guidance to anyone in that position, she would. Determined, Charlotte would make an effort to help out her peer.
In Australia, at least 50% of people with a teaching degree are leaving education. About 40 to 50 per cent of Australia’s newest teachers leave education within their first five years. In the United States, more than half a million teachers (over 15%) leave their career during the school year. While America may lead the world in teacher attrition, teachers everywhere struggle with staying motivated.
Associate Professor Philip Riley from the Australian Catholic University predicts that the teaching workforce will drastically reduce, and Australia will suffer teacher shortages. Student size will increase by 26 per cent by 2022 but will we have the teachers for them? It is likely to result in larger and larger class sizes. Experienced teachers are leaving the profession and the less experienced being called on to do more.
When teachers start teaching, many feel like they have to “sink or swim”. One of the biggest reasons many new teachers leave their position is that overall they didn’t feel like they were getting the external support they needed.
In addition to mentoring programs, participating in communities of teachers who are ready and willing to help can be a real lifesaver. Especially where many teachers feel like they are starting to “sink”.
I know dozens of teachers that have quit teaching in five years or less. There are a lot of factors that contribute to this percentage, i.e. pay, autonomy, and potential growth, to name a few. Getting Teacher Accreditation and teacher permanency is another.
There are small things we can do as teachers to help new teachers stay inspired and motivated. Enough to help new teachers pass that five-year mark. What are they?
1 – Make time for spontaneity
New teachers report that one of the most challenging parts of transitioning into their new career is meeting all of the demands. From lesson planning and classroom management to meetings and paperwork, new teachers have a lot on their plate.
To help new teachers manage, experienced teachers must step in. Just taking five minutes to demonstrate a strategy that makes the load feel a bit lighter is always helpful. Besides, helping guide new teachers through the day to day responsibilities, it alleviates stress.
Allowing for questions and open dialogue can also make new teachers feel like they are not alone. Instead, they think they have a supportive team at their aid.
As experienced teachers, most of us probably feel like we have plenty of friends at work. We might not view our circles at work as “cliques”, but new teachers can perceive these friendships as such.
By being spontaneous, and merely extending invitations to lunches or prep period planning, we can prevent new teacher turnover. We can help new teachers get plugged into the school. Thus, making new teachers have a more enjoyable experience day-to-day.
2 – Get new teachers involved
Be a teacher mentor and stop new teacher turnover. The more we encourage new teacher involvement, the less likely they are tempted to quit (or move to a different school). It can be anything, from after-school committees to extracurricular clubs and organisations.
It might seem counterintuitive to ask new teachers to do more, but it’s the best way to prevent new teacher turnover. Getting them involved with students so that they can create relationships is a great way to help them feel like they belong. It reminds all of us new and old why we wanted to teach in the first place.
Think back to our imaginary teacher Charlotte. She was currently introducing Sophia to the after-school activities as a way for her to get comfortably acquainted with the school’s community. New teachers need to become integrated into their environment and feel welcomed. She knew what could happen if they weren’t. New teacher turnover was slowly, but surely, becoming a problem across the board despite it being simple to prevent it.
They needed to keep teachers that brought fresh ideas to the table; helping colleagues to stay invigorated and motivated.
“Have you thought about proctoring for any clubs yet?” Charlotte asked Sophia, to which she nodded.
“A few of my students wanted to open a robotics club and asked if I’d be the supervisor if they were able to set it all up,” Sophia said.
A warmth filled Charlotte’s heart as she listened to Sophia’s stories about her students and how other teachers in their department have warmed up to her and begun inviting her to social outings and school activities. That was all Charlotte wanted to see out of their first meeting – a teacher who was helped, welcomed, and treated fairly.
3 – Make the Registration process easier
Teacher Registration we all have to undergo. Graduate Teachers always find it challenging to undergo the procedures for Teachers Accreditation in Australia.
So, Matt’s book “Overcoming Accreditation Disasters” is specifically written to try to repudiate the conclusion drawn by “a study conducted in . . . Teacher Resilience, 2010, which states that between 25% – 40% of Teachers are likely to leave the profession in the next five years”.
Matt uses straightforward language to help new teachers evidence good professional practice “through real-life teachings, stories, innovative teaching resources, assessment, new teacher support programs and mentoring”. The book is FREE and available on Matt’s website at imanewteacher.com for new teacher’s.
4 – Offer practical advice
New teachers have a lot on their plate, is one of the chief complaints teachers have who are on the fence about quitting. We might feel like it’s enough to listen to the problems new teachers at our schools are having. That doesn’t cut it in my book. We need to do more to stop new teacher turnover. Rather than adding to their complaint list, we should offer practical advice. BUT don’t become a know it all and start domineering anyone. Yuck, I hate that – don’t you?
Gently and quietly help a new teacher manage everything without getting burnt out. A study showed that “92 per cent of teachers assigned a mentor their first year returned the next year. Plus, 86 per cent were on the job by the fifth year.”
Let’s look back at Charlotte again. The next day during their lunch break, Charlotte waved at Sophia, as the two women beamed at each other. She motioned to Sophia to sit with her and have lunch, to which Sophia happily did so. Once Sophia took her seat, Charlotte introduced herself and explained that they would be working closely together since they were in the same section of academia.
“Nice to officially meet you,” Charlotte said. “How have you been liking it here?”
“It’s been a whirlwind,” Sophia said. “Lesson planning and paperwork are a league of their own, honestly.”
“I understand that.”
Charlotte went into detail about her tips and tricks that she had learned over the years that eased her stress. Sophia watched her diligently, taking in all of the information that Charlotte could offer. Relief washed over Sophia’s face as Charlotte provided a support system that she hadn’t otherwise had. Unknowingly, Charlotte had made Sophia’s transition easier with a few simple steps that she had taken.
5 – Help them get permanency
Applying for permanency in Australia is complicated and can take years to attain. I was one of the lucky few who got a permanent contract, but many including a good friend of mine has been on a temporary contract for years.
Our motto ‘Giving a Helping Hand’ is just a matter of sharing the good stuff we know. From systems, we use to stay organised to how we assign projects and grade tests. All of these things we’ve learned over the years can make a huge difference in preventing new teacher turnover. Let’s be that mentor for those new teachers!
Listen to Florence, an Aussie Primary School Teacher – who explains how to apply for Permanent Teaching Positions in NSW.
As experienced teachers, you understand what helps teachers feel supported – and which parts of the profession are frustrating. “New teachers need support once they’re in schools,” Professor Robyn Ewing from the University of Sydney, who also researches teacher attrition, says. “A well mentored new teacher is three times likely to stay in the game”.
Professional Teaching Standards, with its extensive administration, takes up a lot of time. Which means that teachers spend most of their time, when not teaching, documenting for teacher accreditation, leaving no time to support colleagues.
Keep your eyes open for those opportunities to befriend and invite a new teacher to lunch or another social gathering. Step up to be a mentor and not wait to be asked. Please share your knowledge freely; it will help you to grow too.
“Good afternoon,” Sophia said as she handed Charlotte a chocolate muffin, which she took gratefully. It had been a few months into the school year, and Sophia was transitioning smoothly, thanks to Charlotte’s mentoring.
Since their first encounter, Charlotte had introduced Sophia to other colleagues at school; it allowed Sophia to network and expand her relationships in school. From then, Sophia had lunch with Charlotte and the rest of her usual companions. They built strong bonds with one another and soon expanded their mentoring to other new teachers.
“How are you today?” Charlotte sweetly asked. She knew the answer to that question, though. Sophia had been feeling rejuvenated and refreshed since their first conversation. The blonde woman glowed every morning as she arrived at school – Charlotte had made a big change in her life with simple and easy steps.
“If I’m being honest, I’m incredibly grateful for you,” Sophia said, snapping Charlotte out of her thoughts. Charlotte tilted her head with a raised brow; Sophia took this as a sign to continue speaking. “If it weren’t for you, chances are I’d have moved to another school or left this profession entirely.”
As much as Charlotte wished she couldn’t understand the feeling, she did. It was the sad truth and reality of many teachers that Charlotte knew. For many of them, staying became incredibly difficult despite how much they loved their students or subjects.
“I’m glad that we were able to keep you,” Charlotte said with full honesty. “I’m sure you know by now that I’m here if you ever need some help.”