Teacher retention: Motivation on the inside, school culture on the outside
Advocate Staff report
Offering professional development opportunities to teachers is important in retaining them, but their own internal drive also is a key to keeping them in the classroom, said Morgan County school board member Mary Alice Oldfield, a retired teacher.
“First, it has to be that love of teaching that causes teachers to stay in the profession,” she said.
Rockcastle County school board member Carrie Ballinger, who teaches first grade at Madison County’s Kingston Elementary, cites school culture – positive working conditions – as the most important factor in teacher retention.
“I think the biggest issue is school culture and teachers having the autonomy to be able to make decisions and to be independent within their classrooms,” said Ballinger, in her 10th year of teaching. “Having their principal’s support in trying new things – I think they’re very important for a teacher.”
Ballinger said teacher turnover isn’t an issue in Rockcastle County Schools, pointing to supportive school culture as the reason. “Even though they could go to a different county for an increase in salary, I think that they see good working conditions are important,” she said.
Oldfield, who retired in 2001 after 27 years of teaching in Johnson and Morgan county districts, is concerned about teacher retention. She hopes as a result of recent discussions that the district will try some new ways to inspire teachers, perhaps using motivational programs, and thereby to retain them.
“I really feel like we can do more as school board members for our teachers,” Oldfield said. ‘’We need for our teachers to experience a variety of learning workshops that are of more personal interest to them. ‘Thinking outside of the box’ opportunities like traveling to other countries, working with other professionals, and using strategies to ensure that our district teachers have an avenue to make their teaching dreams and goals become a reality.”
She said tight budgets have led to less of this kind of professional development and more reliance on training through education cooperatives.
Ballinger said teaching has become so complex that having veteran teachers as mentors to new teachers is critical to their retention. “Instead of just a teacher feeling alone when they first begin their career, they have people there willing to help, outside your KTIP (Kentucky Teacher Internship Program) expectations,” she said.
Still, Oldfield said for a teacher to change schools or switch to a different grade level is not always a bad thing. “I always believed teaching different grade levels, and sometimes, moving to a different school can improve teaching and lend itself to teacher retention,” she said. “We all have our comfort zones, teachers included, and moving out of those zones could lead to new experiences and educational growth.”