When teachers leave the classroom, it directly impacts student learning and can be costly for districts that spend money on recruiting and training.
In the state of Indiana, 12,426 educators, or 18 percent of Indiana's teachers and administrators, left their schools over a single school year period, according to the most recent data from the Indiana Department of Education.
Those numbers are among the worst in the nation, according to a recent study by the Learning Policy Institute.
When teachers remain in their schools, they get to know their students, families and their communities, which school leaders say is a huge factor in student achievement.
So what's causing the departure? Call 6 Investigates took a deep dive into the numbers, and found that there is no documentation state-wide on why teachers are leaving.
Why They Left
Taji Gibson was a teacher for 19 years with an enthusiasm so contagious, it won her an outstanding educator award.
“I loved the kids,” said Gibson. “I loved teaching. I wish I didn’t have to leave.”
Gibson said she left the classroom for numerous reasons including a lack of leadership opportunities and compensation.
“At the time I left, after 19 years of experience, I made maybe $54,000,” said Gibson.
Gibson said she had trouble juggling everything that comes along with being a teacher.
“On your days off, you’re grading, you’re making lessons, you’re trying to make things better for your students,” said Gibson.
Gibson worked at Warren Central High School and Bloomington High School North until her departure in May 2016.
She now works for the Center on Education and Lifelong Learning at Indiana University Bloomington.
“I’m still making a difference hopefully in education,” said Gibson. “I plan to go back to the classroom someday.”
Matthew Roberts worked as a teacher for Eastern Greene Schools in Bloomfield from 2006 to 2013.
“I left mostly because of earning potential,” said Roberts. “The earning potential had gone down because of cuts by the state to the rural schools. I could see the writing on the wall, and I didn’t believe it was going to change within the next 15 years.”
Roberts said when he left the classroom, he was earning $41,000.
Currently, the average teacher salary in Indiana is $45,841.
Roberts said he’s making a much better living working construction.
“I know of at least four teachers who have left because of low compensation, and it’s hitting the rural schools harder,” said Roberts. “It’s more difficult to attract talent in rural school when they can go to a bigger school and make a better living.”
Gibson said she announced she was leaving, no one seemed interested in her reasons for going elsewhere.
“No one really sat down and said ‘why are you deciding to leave?” said Gibson. “There was no survey.”
Lack Of Tracking
The state of North Carolina tracks the reasons why every single teacher leaves and puts out a report to their legislature.
Call 6 Investigates surveyed the 10 largest school districts in central Indiana and found only one, Perry Township, that appeared to track the specific reasons why teachers are leaving their classrooms. Those reasons included health, family needs, performance or a new job opportunity.
Indiana does not require schools to track this information, nor does it put out a statewide report on teacher turnover.
Indiana State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz told Call 6 Investigates in order track the reasons why teachers leave their classrooms, Indiana would have to enact a law like North Carolina's.
“I supposed it could be proposed in the General Assembly, which is where that would need to happen in order to get required information like that,” said Ritz.
Ritz put together a Blue Ribbon Commission to look at teacher turnover.
Top concerns impacting teacher recruitment
- The public perception of teaching
- Job demands and stress
- Standardized testing
The panel put together a list of reasons impacting teacher recruitment, however, the only respondents were 37 educators on the panel.
Among the top concerns listed include the public perception of teaching, compensation, job demands and stress, and standardized testing.
“We’re focused on being proactive,” said Ritz. “We are actively working to make sure we are recruiting and retaining our teachers.”
“Well, we already know we have an issue, and so, we are moving forward,” said Ritz.
Ritz plans to address several problems with the state legislature in the upcoming session including teacher pay and teacher evaluations tied to student assessments.
“We have a lot of conversation to do,” said Ritz.
The state’s average retention rate for educators, which includes teachers and administrators, is around 82 percent, meaning they keep 82 percent of their educators from school year to school year.
Teachers in Indiana are concerned more than any other state that their job security is impacted significantly by student test scores, according to the study.
The study also showed less than 50 percent of teachers in Indiana "strongly agree" that administrators are "supportive and encouraging."
The study said the highest rates of teachers leaving the profession for reasons other than retirement are found in North Dakota (10.7 percent), Arizona (8.7 percent), and Indiana (8.5 percent).
Statement from Indiana State Teachers Association (ISTA) on teacher turnover:
Teacher Turnover Hits Urban Schools Hard
Indianapolis Public Schools retention rate for educators is 57 percent, compared to the state average of 82 percent.
The state is working with districts like Indianapolis Public Schools, the worst public school district in the state in terms of teacher turnover.
IPS’s retention rate for educators is 57 percent, compared to the state average of 82 percent.
“I think we face a lot of challenges unique to the city of Indianapolis,” said IPS Human Resources Officer Mindy Schlegel. “Teaching in an urban setting is a more challenging atmosphere. I think our teachers are under a lot of pressure surrounding student performance.”
IPS recently boosted teacher pay and leadership opportunities to help retain teachers.
“We’ve created leadership roles and have designed career paths for teachers so they have opportunities to take on leadership without becoming a principal,” said Schlegel.
Teachers can make an additional $5,000 to $18,000 a year by taking on leadership opportunities.
The district is also working to improve exit interviews and how they track why teachers leave.
Call 6 Investigates requested IPS’s data on teacher turnover, but the district did not list the reasons why a teacher left beyond “retirement” or “resignation.”
“I think it’s hard to solve a problem if you don’t know the reason,” said Schlegel.
IPS points out part of the reason their turnover rate is poor is because the numbers include educators that left for school restructuring, as was the case for Francis Scott Key School 103 and Shortridge High School.
Indiana has more than 70,000 educator positions, including teachers and administrators. Call 6 Investigates obtained data showing the number of educators retained at a school year-to-year, with the 2014-2015 being the most recent year available. You can see that data below.
School Bucks The Turnover Trend
The Mt. Vernon Community School Corporation in Hancock County is looking to buck the trend of high teacher turnover.
The district is above the state average of retention at 88 percent, and Call 6 Investigates went to find out why.
Inside the break room at Fortville Elementary, teachers can help themselves to a coffee bar, a candy bar and write a note of encouragement to their colleagues on the “Shout Out” board.
Fortville Elementary Principal Heather Noesges says she also leaves notes and treats in teachers’ mailboxes to celebrate a job well-done.
“We like to keep them happy,” said Noesges. “We work together as a family.”
In the break room, Noesges has a bowl of ducks reminding teachers not to “poop in the pool” or be negative.
“You don't want to be that one kid that ruins it for everybody and everybody has to get out of the pool, so that was my theme at the beginning of the year," said Noesges.
The district is able to offer teachers a starting salary of $37,836, which is more than the state average of $30,632, according to the latest
Noesges doesn’t think compensation is a major factor for teachers, however.
“People don’t go into education for the money,” said Noesges. “They go into it because they love kids.”
The district also offers weekly professional development, as well as leadership opportunities for teachers to serve as mentors for other teachers.
“They can be a leader, but still be a classroom teacher at the same time,” said Noesges.
The efforts are paying off: Fortville had no teacher turnover in the last school year transitioning into this school year.
“That's so beneficial because we've built that relationship and we know each other and the trust is there," said Noesges.
Mt. Vernon High School Principal Greg Roach said retaining teachers is vitally important for students and programming.
Roach makes it a point to talk to his teachers daily.
“I have a smile for them, and ask them how they’re doing,” said Roach. “You want your teachers to feel valued and supported maybe more than anything.”
Roach said sometimes teachers leave for reasons beyond their control, such as their spouse gets a job in another state.
Roach said they focus on what they can control, such as sending teachers to conferences and offering other ways to improve.
Mt. Vernon is working on a new comprehensive employment plan that would include gathering information from exit interviews and using that data to make necessary improvements.
People don’t go into education for the money. They go into it because they love kids.