Keeping Young Teachers in the Classroom

Keeping Young Teachers in the Classroom

I teach 8th grade and I am 24. When I started in the classroom two years ago, I was not even a decade older than my students. Responses to new, young teachers can be mildly amusing, like when field trip docents ask where the teacher is when I am standing four feet away from them. It can also be mildly daunting presenting to families and parents who certainly have raised an eyebrow when eyeballing my age.

At any rate, it’s a feature of me being fresh-faced in this career, an experience I’ve shared with my friends who also went from college right back to classroom. One of my school mentors kindly told me I am the future of the teaching profession.

If only the future looked brighter.

Don’t get me wrong, I love working with students and know my profession is filled with meaning. Yet, the reality is that teaching is a grueling job, filled with more demands than ever before. For the first time this year, public school teachers in Hawaii have student performances on standardized test scores, in part, tied to their pay. The pressure to deliver results, compile professional portfolios, adjust to new curriculum with Common Core State Standards (CCSS), AND run an effective, engaging, and meaningful classroom makes me instinctively want to go ballistic on anyone who uses that good ol’ “Those who can’t do, teach” adage.

With such demands, such pressure, and more lucrative offers in other positions outside of education, new teachers in my age bracket (and in general) are heading for the hills in droves. Several studies have found that between 40 percent and 50 percent of new teachers leave within the first five years of teaching. That means that thousands upon thousands of teachers in this country leave teaching before having the opportunity to truly master the job, mentor others, and become leaders in their school communities.

The picture appears even more ominous considering teachers of the Baby Boomer generation are all fast approaching retirement age. In California, where I was born, an estimated one-third to even 40 percent of teachers are on track for retirement in the next 10 years. According to the California Teachers Association, the state would therefore have to replace 106,000 teachers.

Recruiting and retaining talented new teachers is in everybody’s interest. At the school, district, state, and community levels, it is essential for ensuring student success. Sadly, the statistics so far do not look great. The good news is that I believe in the ability for education to adapt and adjust course.

I joined the Hope Street Fellowship because I wanted an opportunity to grow and collaborate with other teachers in a larger professional community. Such involvement has already made me feel more invested in teaching as there is an avenue for my voice to be heard—and respected— at a policy level. These opportunities will be crucial for teachers starting with ideals and willingness to work for progress. With greater support for teachers transitioning to CCSS, a goal I am currently working towards as a Hope Street fellow, teachers can also feel better set up for success as well as valued for their work as professionals.

Let’s face it: people don’t really join teaching for the fat paycheck. Teaching requires a passion, a calling to work for rewards that are not always as tangible or forthcoming. Still, the landscape must shift. There must be more systems in place to support and incentivize new teachers to stay. The future depends on it.

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