Teacher Retention Vital to Teacher Quality

By Naomi Dillon

Al Richard Ingersoll ever wanted to do was teach high school social studies. He achieved his dream, then quit six years later.

“I had a colleague, right before I decided to throw in the towel, who’d spend the better part of the day reading the newspaper in class,” says Ingersoll, now an authority on teacher turnover. “Meanwhile, I was up to midnight developing interesting lesson plans, and he probably made more than I did. I watched this and thought, ‘This is bad management personified. Who set this up? Does this happen in other schools?’”

Ingersoll’s outrage and inquisitiveness -- “I had a thousand questions in my head” -- spawned a body of research focused on teacher turnover, particularly what’s behind it and how to get ahead of it.

“No one cared when I first started studying it,” says Ingersoll, now an education and sociology professor at the University of Pennsylvania. “No one considered the costs and consequences.”

The reason, Ingersoll and others believe, is that staffing deficiencies have plagued the teaching profession for so long that they are benignly accepted. And even though a series of studies in recent years have ratcheted up the problem to a crisis level, due in large part to a sizeable number of teachers reaching retirement age, the standard prescription has remained the same: recruit, recruit, recruit.

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