Maryland struggles to retain young, qualified teachers
ANNAPOLIS — In nine years of teaching elementary school, Robin Beers has always felt the profession never came easy.
Beers did not decide she wanted to teach until after undergrad when she received her master’s degree in special educa- tion. Ever since entering teaching, she said she has felt as if she has not had enough time or support to consistently succeed.
Now that she is settled at an Anne Arundel elementary school teaching third grade, Beers has overcome many of the struggles young teachers face when first entering the profession.
“It’s overwhelming,” Beers said. “I often struggle to keep things in perspective. I sometimes have to tell myself, ‘You’re not running the Pentagon; it’s going to be okay.’”
Maryland schools are often touted as some of the best in the country, but beneath the surface, it is becoming increasing- ly difficult to retain experienced teachers during the first few years into the profession despite receiving relatively high pay among teachers na- tionwide.
The 2016 edition of Education Week’s “Quali- ty Counts” report gave Maryland schools an overall B rating, which ranks the state among the top five in the country. Additionally, Maryland’s eligible schools received the highest percentage of gold and silver awards from a 2016 U.S. News report. Gold and silver awards reflect which schools best prepare students for college and achieve passing scores on Advanced Placement tests.
Despite this, Maryland, like much of the country, struggles to curb teacher turnover, especially in the most disadvantaged areas.
“It is a widespread is- sue,” said Richard Inger- soll, professor of education and sociology in the University of Pennsylva- nia’s Graduate School of Education. “Teaching is a high turnover occupa- tion.”
Nearly half of new teachers who have completed between one to two years of teaching will have left the field by the beginning of the third full year, ac- cording to data from the Maryland State Depart- ment of Education’s 20142015 teacher and princi- pal effectiveness ratings.
In the 2015-2016 school year, Maryland lost 4,536 of its approximate 60,000 teachers, a 7 percent at- trition rate, according to state department of education. Forty percent, or 1,815, of those lost teachers had five or fewer years of experience.
Moreover, 29.7 percent of teachers in the state have fewer than five years of experience, whereas teachers with more than 20 years of experience account for about 16 per- cent.
“There is research that shows there is a link between teacher experience and the quality of teaching that goes on in the classroom,” said Adam Mendelson, spokesman for the Maryland State Education Association, the state’s largest teacher union. “When there is a lot of turnover, it’s harder to establish relationships between teachers and students.”
While Ingersoll says teacher retention rates are low across the country, a September report from the Learning Policy Institute gave Maryland a teacher attractiveness rating of 2.1 on a 5-point average quintile scale, which is tied for 46th in the country along with Mississippi and New Mexico.
For comparison, the highest rated state in terms of attracting educa- tors, Oregon, received a rating of 4.09. The Learning Policy Institute creat- ed this scale by drawing data from National Center for Education Statistics, said Desiree Carver Thomas, research and policy associate with the institute. As part of a state teacher mentoring program, Oregon was able to retain 90 percent of teachers during the 2013-2014 school year.
Maryland teachers, however, are better com- pensated compared to the rest of the country with an average starting salary of $43,235, which ranks fifth in the country, and an average overall salary of $66,482, which ranks sev- enth, according to Nation- al Education Association.
But Mendelson and Carver-Thomas said sim- ply compensating teachers with higher salaries isn’t enough to keep retention rates afloat.
“We found that salary compensation corresponds with recruiting a teacher, but it does not correlate with retention,” Carver-Thomas told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service. “It’s really important that compensation comes hand-in-hand with great working conditions.”
Seven of the state’s 24 jurisdictions have higher than the state average of 29.7 percent of teachers with five or fewer years of experience. Dorches- ter and Prince George’s counties lead the way with 42.2 percent and 40.6 percent, respectively.
Although Ingersoll says low teacher retention most commonly affects lower income areas, Theresa Dudley Mitchell, president of the Prince George’s County Educators Association, said she is hesitant to label income as the sole condition for poor retention.
“The reality is that there are some kids that are going to get it because of you and some are going to get it in spite of you,” Dudley Mitchell said. “Prince George’s County is not alone. The concept of teacher retention is something we really have to get a hold on, as to why people who want to come into the profession ultimately end up leaving.”
Dudley Mitchell said teaching today is more demanding with higher stakes in testing and increased workloads for teachers. She said a healthy balance of veter- an and new teachers creates an environment con- ducive for teachers and their students to succeed.
For Kyle De Jan, teaching at Frederick Douglass High School in Prince George’s County has been a bittersweet oppor- tunity since he is the final step in his students’ public education experience.
“As a new teacher, you’re really afraid of your learning curve, just like any other job,” said De Jan, a second-year teacher. “You feel really anxious because your learning curve means they’re going to miss out on things. That feels like you’re damaging their post-secondary success.”
Beers said teaching is a significant time commitment with increasing responsibilities and expectations mounting every day. She added that these are amplified when administrators micromanage and attempt to control how teachers operate their classroom.
“I’m best when I close my door and trust what I’m doing,” Beers said. “I know the thing I’ve needed the most is more time to hone my craft.”
State Sen. Paul Pinsky (D-Prince George’s) sponsored legislation that went into effect in July that creates a pilot program intended to give first-year teachers more time with mentoring, peer observation and assistance with planning.
The Teacher Induction, Retention and Advancement Act of 2016 will be piloted in Anne Arundel County and permanently increase the state-matching stipend for teachers who hold a National Board Certification from $2,000 to $4,000.
“Teachers get overwhelmed,” Pinsky said. “We want to have a plan of having more time and support in the first year to increase the retention rate.”