What’s the reason so many new teachers quit the profession or move to a different school? The heavy workload? Low salary? A paucity of classroom resources? An absence of autonomy? The “always-on,” continually demanding nature of the work? None of the above. The main reason is their principals.
To find out what factors influence novice teachers’ decisions to leave the teaching profession, Peter Youngs, associate professor of educational policy at Michigan State University and Ben Pogodzinski of Wayne State University, working with two other colleagues at Michigan State, surveyed 184 beginning teachers of grades one through eight in eleven large school districts in Michigan and Indiana. Their study was recently published in Elementary School Journal.
The researchers found that the most important factor influencing commitment was the beginning teacher’s perception of how well the school principal worked with the teaching staff as a whole. This was a stronger factor than the adequacy of resources, the extent of a teacher’s administrative duties, the manageability of his or her workload, or the frequency of professional-development opportunities.
These findings are especially significant because high turnover rate among new teachers is a big problem. Roughly a third of teachers in their first two years either change schools or quit teaching altogether. This ends up being costly to school districts — forcing them to recruit, hire, and train new teachers. And spending all that time getting newcomers up to speed also limits schools’ ability to implement new reforms. This is especially problematic in low-income urban schools that have difficulties attracting and holding onto teachers in the first place.
The new research affirms much of what earlier studies have found. For example, an earlier (2003) multiyear study of 50 teachers in Massachusetts found that teachers who left the profession often “described principals who were arbitrary, abusive, or neglectful.” Other studies also have established a link between administrative climate and teacher retention…
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