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Improving New Teacher Attrition Through Associate Programs - Nicholas Stone

Improving New Teacher Attrition Through Associate Programs

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In a 2002 symposium on “Unraveling the ‘Teacher Shortage’ Problem,” the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future noted that debate over teacher recruitment detracts from the more pressing issue of teacher retention. Ten years later, a strong focus on recruitment persists. Teaching attracts highly-qualified recent graduates. New York City public school teachers start at $45,530, with benefits and three months off, in the worst job market for young graduates since the Depression. Teaching offers respect, authority and purpose to a competitive and socially conscious generation. Unfortunately, half of new teachers quit within five years, a grim number in a profession with a steep learning curve. Associate teacher programs, popular at independent schools, can alleviate attrition and maximize young teachers’ effectiveness.

The NCTAF highlighted low attrition among “beginning teachers who have access to intensive mentoring by expert colleagues” and high student performance in schools with extensive faculty induction programs.  Associate teacher programs, essentially apprenticeships, demonstrate why. Associates teach under the direction of a head teacher, in the head’s classroom, often while pursuing or after finishing a Masters degree. Independent schools employ associates as utility teachers and distribute them to where they are most useful. Associates reduce student-teacher ratios and can take responsibility for any aspect of instruction, from a lesson to an entire subject. They typically work with one class or grade-level each year, participating in every aspect of classroom life. Almost all aspire to head teaching positions. Their standing resembles that of an associate lawyer; educated, qualified, less experienced and working in the field with promotion opportunities.

Associate programs create fluidity in faculties without sacrificing consistency. Associates connect different classrooms and grade-levels by working with different head teachers during their tenure. The programs allow new teachers to join faculties without turnover among heads and schools can efficiently fill vacancies from within their own ranks. Most associates become head teachers elsewhere, creating professional networks among schools through teachers who have worked closely together.

If “intensive mentoring by expert colleagues” reduces attrition, then associate programs can address high teacher turnover while quickly improving schools. The NCTAF urged, “we must develop and sustain professionally rewarding career paths for teachers, from induction through accomplished teaching.” Associate programs make teaching a true growth profession in which a classroom with your name on the door becomes an aspiration.

Associate positions are mostly limited to the lower grades of independent and some charter schools. Financial limitations and credential requirements keep them out of public schools, which instead employ aides, assistants and paraprofessionals. Nonetheless, associate programs offer a model of a teaching career path that can improve instruction and help new teachers grow in all schools and grade-levels.

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