New Teachers Staying in the Classroom, But For How Much Longer?

Approximately 200,000 new teachers entered the classroom in 2007-08, just as the nation stood on the edge of a devastating recession and an era of relentless budget cuts and assaults on the rights and reputations of public school educators. It has been a turbulent time to put it mildly. So of those teachers who weren’t pink-slipped, where are they now? Were they able to stick it out over these past few years in a profession known for high attrition rates?

According to newly-available research, the answer appears to be yes. Does this suggest, however, a new stability in the teaching profession? Probably not.

Dr. Richard Ingersoll of the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education just updated “Seven Trends: the Transformation of the Teaching Force,” released in late 2012, to include data from the 2011-12 school year, culled from the Department of Education’s latest School Staffing Survey. The new data further support the trends he and his colleagues identified 18 months ago: It has become far larger, simultaneously become both older and younger, and far less experienced. It has become less diverse by gender, but more diverse by race. Furthermore, the profession does not appear to be suffering from a decline in the academic ability of new teacher hires.

In 2012, Ingersoll also described the profession as increasingly unstable, citing the high levels of turnover and the influx of new teachers (which he labeled the “greening” of the teaching force)  Looking at years of experience, in 1987-88, the modal, or most common, school teacher had 15 years in the classroom. “By 2007-08, the modal teacher was a beginner in his or her first year of teaching,” explains Ingersoll.

However, as the economy began to deteriorate in 2007-08 and hiring tapered off and layoffs began, the greening of the teaching force slowed down. By 2011-12, the most common teacher was someone in his or her fifth year. To Ingersoll, this suggests that a significant number of teachers hired for the 2007-08 school year have stayed in the classroom.

Teaching Experience of School Teachers, 1987-88, 2007-08 and 2011-12 (Click to Enlarge)

Furthermore, while the teaching force increased by about 1.3 million from 1987-88 to 2007-08, it declined by only 45,000 teachers between 2007-08 and 2011-12.

Still, as Ingersoll told The Wall Street Journal, as the economy continues to strengthen, “we’ll see more teachers leaving, more beginners hired and a worrisome return to the ballooning and greening of the teaching workforce.”

Worrisome for a number of reasons, including turnover’s role in teacher shortages. “Increases in turnover among minority teachers, especially in disadvantaged schools, undermine efforts to recruit new teachers in hard-to-staff schools and to diversify the teaching force,” the report says.

In addition, many newcomers leave the classroom before they are able to fully develop their teaching skills. Research shows that teachers’ effectiveness increases significantly with additional experience for the first several years in teaching.

With teachers with 10 or fewer years’ experience the new majority of the teaching profession, the National Education Association  has moved over the past year to engage more intensively with educators who are in the first decade of their careers. NEA has recently launched a series of initiatives that collectively aim to empower teachers to lead, shape education policy, and prepare the next generation of teacher leaders. “This is all about giving voice and energy to the men and women who are in the classroom every day,” NEA President Van Roekel said. “ We need teacher leaders now.”