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How long should teachers stay at their schools?

favicon Most people decry teacher turnover. Schools should do more to make teaching sustainable. Students do better when they have experienced teachers who know their schools and communities.

I agree.

But how long should teachers stay? What’s the sweet spot? Given today’s labor landscape, in which the typical worker bops from job to job every couple years or so, what’s possible?

Tonight I’ve been reading an excellent profile of Jeff Bezos in Business Week. There’s an interesting little graph from the article:

Amazon Retention

Pretty crazy, don’t you think? I mean, I knew that the tenure of most tech workers was short. But one year for the typical Amazon employee? That’s insane. By Amazon’s standards, Yahoo’s median 2.4-year tenure seems really long in comparison.

What would happen in schools if the average teacher tenure were less than two years? In many urban public schools, that figure is unfortunately a reality. Maybe that’s why I sometimes felt like a dinosaur at my last school, where I stayed for 12 years.

I remember that it took me nearly three years at my first school to figure out what I was doing. And then, at my second school, it took another two to adjust to my new environment. If that’s true for other teachers, it makes sense for schools to create conditions such that teachers would stay for six to eight years, at minimum.

But if you ask the typical urban public school principal how long she realistically hopes that teachers will stay, the answer won’t be longer than five years. (This is wishful thinking.) This means two or three years of getting good, followed by two or three years of being good. And then, the cycle repeats.

There are, of course, many forces that make it hard for teachers to stay longer. And there aren’t too many things that schools can do, outside of strong professional development, to counteract factors like overwork, underpay, challenging work conditions, and limited resources.

It’s just not easy.

What are your thoughts? How long should teachers stay at their schools before moving on?

4 comments

  1. Wil

    I think the major component of employment, no matter where, has to be a sense of belonging. The more involved that you become in school affairs (sports, clubs, etc.), also seems to be a deciding factor.

  2. Mark Isero

    I think you’re right, Wil, about the importance of feeling like you’re part of something. That’s definitely one reason I stayed at my last school for 12 years.

  3. James Chandler

    This is my 10th year at my current school (having done 7 at my previous school), and I have no wish to leave! I am the Head of my Department, as well as the Curriculum Administrator for the entire school. My department offers four languages , and we have just opened a Sixth Form in September 2015 to incorporate the new GCE qualifications in England, which has provided a fresh new challenge for me in teaching (as I now teach A Level Spanish as well as GCSE French and KS3 German), and in timetabling all our new classes. I think, as long as a teacher feels comfortable, they shouldn’t be afraid to remain at their school. The material you’re teaching isn’t likely to change much from school-to-school, so stay where you belong, and where you know.

    • Mark Isero

      I agree with you, James. I stayed three years at my first school and then moved to another one just because I was moving from teaching in the suburbs to teaching in the city. Then I stayed 12 years there. I can see why teachers leave if they don’t like their principal or if the working conditions are bad, but otherwise, there is a huge amount of benefit to sticking around for a while. Thank you for reading my post, and I hope you’re having a good teaching year!

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