Students aren’t the only fresh-faced individuals embarking with enthusiasm on a new academic year.
Every August, the St. Joseph News-Press publishes names and photographs of first-year teachers in all city schools, both public and private. It’s a worthwhile feature, but we wonder if a better use of newsprint might go toward recognizing those teachers who stick around for five or 10 years. The fact that we were able to publish 120 new teacher mug shots — the vast majority for positions in the St. Joseph School District — illustrates two realities.
There are still plenty of smart and talented people who want to enter this profession. But it also reflects turnover that can be attributed not just to retirement or advancement, but to teachers who leave the profession or take their skills to higher-paying jobs at Kansas City schools.
It shouldn’t be viewed as a phenomenon limited to St. Joseph. Last December, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education produced a report on teacher retention for the Missouri General Assembly. From 2012 to 2016, the department found a 5 percent increase in the number of new teachers who left the classroom within three years of their first day on the job.
In public schools across the state, the percentage of teachers with six to 10 years of experience dropped from 22 percent to 18 percent from 2012 to 2018, while those with 11 to 15 years of experience fell from 18 percent to 16.7 percent of the teaching workforce.
A strong case can be made that in any occupation — police work, nursing, teaching and journalism — the five to 15- or 20-year experience range represents a sweet spot where the professional combines youth and enthusiasm with the kind of expertise that only can be gained by on-the-job experience.
It’s not a knock on rookie teachers or those nearing retirement, only an acknowledgement that much is lost for St. Joseph’s students if too many teachers decide to leave in the prime of their careers.
Eventually, some new teachers will decide that this difficult job isn’t for them, creating natural turnover that’s understandable. Administrators and school boards, including those in St. Joseph, should take care to identify and address issues within their control that can affect teacher retention. We asked one veteran teacher why younger colleagues leave the profession.
Her reply, in this order: “behaviors, pay and too much work.” This is unscientific but probably not a shock to others in the classroom.
At a minimum, in addition to recognizing this year’s new teachers, take time to express thanks to those who appeared in the 2014 or 2009 edition and still stand at the head of the class, ready to teach St. Joseph’s children.