Pairing recruit and retain when we talk about teacher policy is as common and natural as pairing peanut butter and jelly. The Two Rs roll ff the tongue together and suggest that we give equal weight to the different stages of the teaching career. In fact, much of the policy focus since the ‘90s has been on new teachers. The current, growing emphasis on defining effective teaching presents an entry point for getting serious about retention. It acknowledges a growing body of research that verifies what all teachers know to be true: There is a steep growth curve in teaching. Even the best first year teacher serves her students better when she reaches in her third, fourth or fifth year. Experience is correlated with effectiveness. Retention matters.
At Teach Plus, we seek to create a vibrant second stage of the teaching career that motivates excellent teachers to remain in the classroom, improve the lives of their students, and build a modern teaching profession. We focus on the retention segment of the human capital pipeline.
Yet, the term “retention” conjures up an image that is neither vibrant nor forward-looking. I picture an editorial page cartoon: a principal has caught a teacher with an oversized net and won’t let go. Retention subtly suggests stagnation—just the opposite of what students need in a teacher, just the opposite of what young teachers are seeking in a career.
My suggestion that teacher retention should be an education reform goal is often met with puzzlement. The first comment I hear is usually: “Retention of all teachers? Not all new entrants are a good fit for teaching.“ The second is: “Retention for a lifetime? Those days are gone.”
I agree wholeheartedly with both of those points, but I don’t think that lets us off the hook from actively working to create the conditions an incentives that will improve retention… of promising teachers…through a second career stage… or longer.
So what’s the term for a bounded, modernized version of retention? I’ve consulted the thesaurus to no avail. Sure, “growth” and “development” fit in some ways, but they are not synonyms. I suppose it’s more accurate to focus on “talent management” than retention. Yet, talent management seems built on an underlying assumption that a robust pipeline of talent is already being retained.
I’m stuck. Any ideas?
–Guestblogger Celine Coggins, Founder of Teach Plus