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Why teachers stay: A phenomenological study in teacher retention

ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 2009
Dissertation
Author: Felecia M Joiner
Abstract:
The purpose of this qualitative study was to look at the experiences of veteran teachers in public schools in central Texas. Veteran teachers from secondary schools were interviewed and the information collected from the interviews was analyzed to ascertain the lived experience among veteran public school teachers in Texas and how their experience related to their classroom retention. Research done by the Texas Education Agency in 2003 showed the impact on the lives and academic achievement of students excelled at a greater rate when a student was educated by a veteran teacher versus a teacher with 4 or less years of teaching experience. With the influx of teachers leaving the profession yearly, the number of veteran teachers in classrooms has diminished. For this phenomenological study in teacher retention, veteran teachers were interviewed to obtain their experience and denote the impact that experience had on student achievement and the impact it placed on veteran teachers desire to remain in the classroom. The participants were interviewed in the areas of personal satisfaction; educational training and background; job satisfaction; salary range; support on the job; career background and future career plans. Information ascertained from the guided interviews in the cited areas was recorded, coded and analyzed for common themes. As the transcripts were analyzed, the researcher found emerging themes among the participants. The experience of these veteran teachers revealed certain common elements that evidenced the phenomenon of their retention. The elements found were: an overall positive attitude regarding their occupation; support on the job; love of students and subject; value of education/learning; natural teaching ability; desire to stay on the job and professional development; all which played an active role in them remaining in the classroom, as well as, what factors encourage novice educators to become veterans in the field of teaching.

TABLE OF CONTENTS vn List of Tables ix Chapter I: Introduction Context of the Study 1 Statement of the Problem 4 Supporting evidence 5 Purpose 10 Concept of a Model Veteran Teacher 11 Research Questions 12 Methodology 12 Significance of the Study 14 Delimitations/limitations 16 Chapter II: Literature Review Introduction 18 Teacher Attrition 18 Teacher Shortage 19 Teacher compensation 22 Work conditions (teacher assignments) 23 Induction programs 25 Professional development 27 Highly qualified 28 Student achievement 30

Vlll Chapter III: Methodology Research Design 36 Participants 41 Researcher's Role 41 Insider/outsider 43 Data Collection Procedure 44 Protection of Human Subjects 46 Data Analysis Procedure 47 Trustworthiness/credibility 47 Chapter IV: Results Introduction 49 Credibility 50 Demographics 50 Educational Beliefs 51 Attitudes and Values 59 Incentives 69 Educational Preparation 71 Current Training 76 Current Life Experience 78 Vocational Call 83

ix Chapter V: Discussion, Implications and Recommendations Introduction 91 Role of Caring 93 Developing relationships 93 Motivation for learning 94 Positive attitude regarding occupation 97 Content Knowledge 99 Value of Education 100 Parental impact 100 Parental support 101 Teacher Preparation 102 Induction programs 102 Professional development 104 Mentoring programs 104 Support on the job 107 Researcher's view of the retention phenomenon 108 Implications for Administration 110 Meeting teacher expectations I l l Quality of professional development I l l Building leadership capacity 112 Teacher voice 112 Quality of the work place 113 Recommendations for Future Research 114

X REFERENCES 115 APPENDIX A 125 APPENDIX B 126 APPENDIX C 128 APPENDIX D 129 APPENDIX E 130 APPENDIX F 131 APPENDIX G 133 APPENDIX H 134 APPENDIX 1 135

xi LIST OF TABLES Table 1 Teacher Experience vs. TAKS Performance 34 Table 2 Participant Demographic Information 50 Table 3 Key Elements of Teacher Retention 86

1 Chapter I: Introduction Context of the Study History has formulated the image of schools as the institutions in which children are sent to become civilized, knowledgeable, productive individuals. Ellwood Cubberly (1909), President of the National Education Association and Dean of Stanford University, stated: The first task of education was to address the needs of illiterate immigrants who lacked "self-reliance and initiative" and to "assimilate and amalgamate these people as part of our American race and to implant in their children so far as can be done, the Anglo-Saxon conception of righteousness, law and order, and popular government and to awaken in them a reverence for our democratic institutions. (Cubberly, 19G9, p. 15) This widely held and taught belief could be denoted as one of the contributing factors as to why the general population would believe that institutions of education are not looked upon as business organizations; but like asiy other organization, education is a business. Teachers are high yield commodities and recruiting them is the current corporate task. "Districts are in competition for talented young teachers; for example, many districts offer signing bonuses to teachers" (Minarik, Thorton, & Perreault, 2003, p. 4). This is one example of private business practices that schools have adopted in an effort to stabilize the "industry" of education. If the school is not well run and decently resourced, the teaching challenge is often over-whelming. If we want a stable, strong teaching force in these schools, we need incentives to attract teachers to these schools and retain them. The primary incentive is teaching conditions that make it possible for teachers to achieve their primary goal - success with their students. We should focus on improving school and neighborhood safety, establishing and maintaining orderly schools, providing teachers - especially new teachers - with professional and administrative supports giving teachers reasonable work loads and class sizes, ensuring that all classrooms are well stocked with the appropriate instructional materials, and keeping school facilities in good repair. But in addition, as in other industries, if we want to attract qualified employees to more difficult, challenging jobs, we need to use market incentives as well, including higher pay. (Nelson, 2006, p. 30)

2 Much like a corporate structure composed of a board of trustees and a CEO; schools are run by a two-tiered organizational structure. The everyday business of schools is run by the local district, which is guided by the laws and rules of federal and state government. This fact in organizational structure presents rifts between educators and legislatures in terms of how schools should function. "Teachers are in the classrooms dealing with the needs of the students on a daily basis. This 'hands on' knowledge has not been utilized by most school sites as teachers have traditionally been excluded from decision making processes" (Davidson, 2002, p. 6). The state government plays a role in guiding the structure of the school, but their motivation lies in the political realm. "In state after state, governments have imposed new curriculum standards, new tests aligned to the standards, new requirements for promotion and graduation, new rules for ranking schools and publicizing test scores, and new systems of rewards and sanctions" (Moe, 2002, p. 2). At the other end of the spectrum, the more localized independent school district plays a role in the organizational climate of each school within its boundaries. The school board of a public school has an agenda that is motivated by more educationally sound doctrine such as voting on school calendars, passing bond issues, hiring of new administrative staff, curriculum choices, and funding decisions. The Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) denoted the separation of power in the school system and the need to work together to promote the achievement of students. TIMSS shows that what we teach and how we teach is what determines our students' achievement. Because decisions about curriculum and teaching are local ones, it results primarily with local communities and states to ensure that

3 students are getting a rigorous mathematics and science program taught by effective and well - trained teachers. (TIMSS 12th Grade Results, 2005, p. 15) All of these issues resonate closer to home in the hearts of school employees and the communities they serve. School boards vary in the decisions they make from district to district, depending on the particular needs of the community they serve. Their decisions, therefore, are usually accepted and supported more readily than the mandates from government officials. This could be due to the fact that they are closer to the consumers of the educational product of knowledge, the students. Struggles between politically motivated legislation and educationally sound doctrine have lead to structural breakdowns in the educational system. A Nation at Risk has been an article held in high regards in the educational system as a document that advocated for change in the educational system in America. In this document, the educational system was seen as an issue in regards not only to the future education of our young people but as the nation all together. "The educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by arising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a nation and a people" (NCE, 1983, p. 5). Blankstein (2004) notes, "schools are clearly for the common good, and they serve as the gateway to, and potential equalizer for, economic and life success for millions of under-served children" (p. 3). Yet students are dropping out of school at more advanced rates; teachers are abandoning the profession in less than five years and our achievement rates compared to other developed nations are subpar. The Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) covered the drop out epidemic in its position paper stating: In Texas alone during the 2005-06 school year, the most current Texas Education Agency report shows 51, 841 students in grades 7-12 dropped out of school. That is equivalent to V* of Houston ISD's student population

4 dropping out of school. When students drop out of school, they often set themselves up for a lifetime of challenges. Many cycle in and out of the prison system. Others struggle with unemployment. A recent Princeton University study shows that each dropout, over his or her lifetime, costs the nation $260, 000. Over the next decade, dropout numbers are expected to grow to more than 12 million nation-wide if high schools can't graduate students at higher rates. (TASB, 2008, p. 1) In an effort to preserve the American right to a free and public education, school systems have been known to apply the band aide treatment approach, which temporarily handles symptoms, but never really address the true problems so they cause more harm than good. In his book, Failure is Not an Option, Blankstein states that, "It often appears that public policy itself is harmful to public education. Although public officials call for leaving no child behind, they rarely accompany that call with adequate resources to meet the challenge" (2004, p. 3). Blankstein was partly referencing the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) bill of 2005 which reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Many educators feel that the NCLB is good in theory, but it has done little to assist with ensuring that all students receive a free and appropriate education which in essence was the bills original intent. Opponents of NCLB, which includes all major teachers' unions, allege, that the act hasn't been effective in improving education in elementary, middle and especially high schools as evidenced by mixed results in standardized tests since NCLB's 2002 inception. Opponents also claim that standardized testing, which is the heart of NCLB accountability, is deeply flawed and biased for many reasons, and that stricter teacher qualifications have exacerbated the nationwide teacher shortage, not provided a stronger teaching force. (White, 2005, p. 1) Statement of the Problem With an over abundance of issues plaguing the educational system today, one particular problem has been associated with the lack of student achievement in our public school systems. The issue does not contain itself to a particular educational

5 setting, which adds to the dilemma of finding a suitable solution. This problem has occurred in urban, as well as rural school settings. It is found in public and private schools alike, making no distinctions between top performing and low performing schools. The impact of the teacher shortage problem is prevalent in a majority of the school systems in the United States, which is why the Department of Education is steadily tracking the situation and trying hard to correct it. "America is experiencing a shortage of qualified individuals prepared to take on the challenges of the profession, particularly in critical shortage areas, such as math and science and special education" (Certo & Fox, 2002, p. 1). The fact that the supply of teachers cannot reach the demand for quality classroom educators creates an academic educational issue when dealing with providing quality education and academic success among public school students. The public school system is in dire need of veteran teachers who can provide the service of educating the youth who will inherently run society for generations to come. This study took on a proactive approach by concentrating on the lived experience of veteran teachers. In looking at what motivates teacher retention in the classroom districts can proactively focus on ways of cultivating and retaining veteran teachers instead of reactively focusing on ways to attract new teachers that have statistically shown patterns of leaving the profession within three years, thus, contributing to the teacher shortage. Supporting evidence. Teacher shortages in various subject areas, but particularly in the areas of special education, science and math, are affecting our nation's schools at an alarming rate. According to John Merrow (1999), an "estimated

6 2 million new teachers will be needed over the next ten years". Unless school districts come up with a plan to recruit new professionals coupled with holding on to the experienced individuals that they already have, the situation will only get worse. The New Mexico State Department of Education (1998), states that 40 to 50 % of all beginning teachers will drop out of teaching within the first seven years. The public school system has been plagued with issues that have been tied to declining support from the general public as to the effectiveness of a free and public education. Looking specifically at the secondary school system, one can note the decrease in standardized test scores, the increase in the dropout rate among students, and the shortage of highly qualified teachers in the classrooms. "Increased concerns about the dropout rate problem are now emerging because of state and local education agency experiences with high-stakes accountability in the context of standards-based reform" (Thurlow, Sinclair, & Johnson, 2002, p. 1). A University of North Texas (UNT) news letter (2005) stated that research conducted through the Texas Education Agency (TEA) found that many schools throughout the state were declining in their ratings as a result of poor test scores on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test. With issues needing to be addressed on many levels of the educational system, stemming mostly from the classroom, the purpose of this research is to gain insight into teacher retention exploring why individuals choose to remain classroom teachers after having taught five or more years. The teaching profession has been marked with a severe shortage crisis for the last 10 years. This concern is noted by Inman and Marlow (2004) which states that studies have revealed that most teachers who leave the profession have fewer than 10

7 years experience indicating 25%-50% of beginning teachers resign during their first three years of teaching. In Texas alone, the shortage situation has placed such a strain on the ideal of the American educational system that countless man-hours have been placed into research defining and identifying this phenomenon coined the teacher shortage crisis. Numerous reports have indicated that there are, or will be, significant shortages of qualified teachers in Texas. Socioeconomic trends such as increasing student enrollments, large numbers of teacher retirements, and fewer individuals entering some of the more extreme predictions have not been borne out; there do appear to be shortages of qualified teachers in some districts. New requirements from the No Child Left Behind Act to place "highly qualified" teachers in all core subjects (which make up the majority of the K-12 curriculum) increase the need to recruit and retain qualified teachers. (Herbert & Ramsay, 2004, p. 2) Schools are in desperate need for teachers that can connect with students, are highly qualified and most importantly, have the element of retention that makes them want to stay in the classroom. Why are these three elements so crucial to schools today? As many studies have noted, teachers who are versed in their subject matter and have the ability to reach their students produce higher achievement from their pupils. Bodenhausen (1988) investigated the relationship between the academic background of teachers of advanced placement (AP) classes and students scores on advanced placement examinations. Findings indicated that the more inexperienced the teacher, the lower the students' test scores in that class. Honaker (2004) notes that administrators want their students to excel and achieve and they know that for this to happen they have to constantly monitor and evaluate teachers, since teacher quality is the number one factor influencing student performance. In echoing this determination in student achievement, Murane, Singer,

8 and Willet (1989) stated that, "Prior research indicates that teachers make marked gains in effectiveness during their first years in the classroom. Consequently, reducing the frequency with which children are taught by a successive stream of novice teachers may be one step toward improving educational quality" (p. 343). A study by Barton (2004) used synthesis and meta-analysis to identify factors from research that were associated with the achievement gap. Among these, he reported on teacher experience and found a positive difference in achievement with teachers having at least five years of experience. Knowing information like this would make an administrator want to maintain their seasoned veteran faculty members, not just because of the difficulty in finding replacements, but because of the impact veteran teachers have on student achievement. "Since new teachers are, on average, less effective than experienced teachers, closing this teacher experience gap is an important ingredient in closing the student achievement gap" (Nelson, 2006, p. 26). Highly qualified staff intuitively knows how to deliver instructions in a manner that increases student achievement. The effect that veteran teachers have on the quality of the education makes retaining them another issue that administrators must face when addressing teacher attrition rates. Santiago (2001) addresses this scenario in Organization for Economic Cooperation and Developments' (OECD) Education Policy Analysis by noting the fact that the immediate effect a shortage would produce would be a lower quality of teacher and teaching. Administrators are aware of the impact that veteran teachers have on student achievement which prompts them to invest in efforts that will help them retain their veteran instructors. "... highly qualified teachers significantly increase student

9 achievement" (Darling-Hammond & Youngs, 2002, p. 1). It just so happens that the veteran teachers are also the highly qualified teachers. According to the Texas Education Agency (2007) a highly qualified teacher can be deciphered by charting their qualifications on the chart they created (see Appendix A). Unofficially, most teachers that find themselves highly qualified according to this flow chart are teachers that have more than five years teaching experience. In an effort to understand the increasing dilemma with the teacher shortage crisis, this research addressed teacher retention by researching individuals that have decided to make a career out of teaching. This study examined the population of teachers with five or more years experience in the classroom. The five-year mark was chosen with the knowledge that in most districts teachers start receiving longevity pay after their fifth year of experience within that same district. Since the five-year anniversary is celebrated with longevity pay increase, it only seemed fitting that the five-year mark be used as the time increment for retention for in this research study. Major research has been invested into why teachers are leaving the profession and no viable solutions have been ascertained that has remedied that shortage crisis. Retaining Quality Teachers (2002) is a study that investigated teacher attrition in seven Virginia school divisions. This qualitative study concluded that reasons that teachers left the profession related mostly to individual factors (Certo & Fox, 2002). In 2004 the State Board of Educator Certification released a report entitled, Teacher Turnover and Shortages of Qualified Teachers in Texas Public School Districts. This study reviewed data on the turnover rates of teachers in Texas school districts for the past four years. The results found that there appeared to be small differences among

10 different types of districts in teacher turnover, as well as out of field teaching (Herbert & Ramsay, 2004). In this study the research will focus on the opposite end of the spectrum, which includes a response to the question of why teachers are deciding to stay in the classroom. This minority population of career classroom teachers has not been considered in years past when researching teacher attrition. This study reviewed the responses provided by veteran classroom teachers, and developed themes and common elements that may be used to add to the limited research available about why some teachers remain in the classroom throughout the entirety of their profession. "Too little attention has been paid to holding onto the quality teachers already hired- both the beginning teachers as well as the more seasoned ones" (National Education Association, 2003, p. 1). Due to the lack of research available on identifying solutions to the shortage problem; using veteran teachers, this research identified implications that could possibly add alternative solutions to rectifying the problem at hand by understanding the phenomena of retention. Purpose The purpose of this study was to examine the phenomena of teacher retention in order to discover why a teacher would choose to remain in the classroom beyond five years, making them qualified to become a veteran in the field of education. The researcher was looking for the experience in the phenomena of retention. For this study a veteran teacher was defined as someone with five or more years experience in the classroom. The experience levels were viewed in three groups 5-10 years, 11-15 years and 16 or more years of experience as a classroom teacher.

11 In reviewing retention, understanding the lived experience of veteran teachers could cultivate greater understanding into what teachers need to give them a sense of commitment to the profession of classroom teaching. Concept of a Model Veteran Teacher For the purposes of this study a model veteran teacher possessed certain qualities that attributed to their effectiveness in the classroom making their students academically successful. The concept of veteran teacher was viewed as any public school professionally certified educator with five or more years experience in the classroom. This study focused on the preparation, personality, philosophies and practices of these individuals that have made them effective with teaching students and successful at maintaining high academic standards for their students. A model teacher for this study was someone who (a) obtained a degree from an accredited university, (b) currently has a professional teaching certificate with the Texas State Board of Education (SBEC), (c) worked in the public school system for five or more years, (d) is considered highly qualified under the Texas Education Agency (TEA) guidelines, (e) is currently the teacher of record for an academic core subject tested by Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS), (f) maintained 75% or better on TAKS data analysis and (g) maintained proficient or better on all current Professional Development and Appraisal (PDAS) documents. These aspects found in the potential candidates for this study were determined by the evaluating administrators over the participating teachers.

12 Research Questions This study focused on interviews that explored the lived experience of subjects involved. In order to capture the spirit of the lived experience the following central questions guided this study: 1. Why do teachers choose to remain in the classroom beyond the five-year mark? 2. To what degree does a prospective teacher's educational background, attitudes and beliefs, and training contribute to their ability to remain in the classroom? 3. How are novice teachers being prepared for the role of veteran teacher through training, in-service, support and mentoring? 4. How do incentives factor into a teacher deciding to remain in the classroom throughout their career? Methodology The phenomenological research method was used in this study. With phenomenology description, reduction and interpretation of the data occurs in order to derive the lived experience of the phenomena being studied. In order to explore the retention experience of the participants of this study the researcher employed bracketing, phenomenological reduction, imaginative variation, contractual synthesis and structural descriptions. In utilizing this research method the researcher was able to reflectively explore the data provided by the participants in order to develop a description of teacher retention and develop further insight into the phenomena of teacher retention.

13 This study captured the essence of each teacher's narrative in order to ascertain the lived experience involved with each veteran teacher's retention experience. This fact necessitated a qualitative approach, so this qualitative study focused on interview data procured from a sample of qualified veteran teachers. For the purposes of this study qualified meant the teachers were certified by the State Board of Education (SBOE), hold a college degree in the subject area that they teach and demonstrate subject competency as determined by the SBOE. The term veteran teacher meant the educator had five or more years experience in classroom instruction. This definition was determined by applying the reverse definition of a beginning teacher and adding two more years of experience. "We define a beginning teacher as one who has three years of experience or less" (Patterson, 2005, p. 22). Each of the nine subjects were interviewed separately by the researcher using a protocol that was specifically tailored to extract information encompassing retention factors and the reasons why they chose to stay in the classroom instead of moving into other areas of education or leaving the profession all together. The data- collecting tool was an interview protocol (see Appendix B). The gathered results were transcribed and evaluated for reoccurring themes and categories. Statements from the participants were then synthesized to produce elements inherent in each participant's retention experience which added to their ability to successfully remain in the classroom. The participants for this study were purposefully selected from secondary public schools located in central Texas. The subjects represented the following three

14 teaching experience levels: 5-10 years experience, 11-15 years experience and 16 or more year's experience. Significance of the Study It can be determined from the statistics stated previously about the teacher turnover rates, that something must be done to encourage educators to stay in the classroom. This has become obvious to educators like Johnson and Kardos (2005) who noted the impending retirement of many veteran teachers and rapid turnover rates among new teachers threaten to disrupt any school wide improvement that takes place. "The turn over kept the school's staff in constant churn, left too many children learning from brand new teachers, and meant the schools had too few teachers with the wisdom gained from long experience" (Nelson, 2006, p. 27). For this reason, teacher retention is important on many levels. The most important being the impact teacher retention has on instruction and performance of students. Murane, Singer, and Willett (1989) made note of the gains made by teachers during their first year in the classroom so decreasing the revolving succession of novice teachers in a classroom would move the educational process one step closer to the educational quality sought after in today's classroom performance. The educational qualities found in the knowledge that experience provides are the qualities that will help American schools produce productive citizens that can make positive contributions to our society. The students benefit from having an experienced teacher in the classroom as noted by Cruickshank & Haefele (2001). Their research states that a significant increase in the amount of student-achievement has been correlated to highly qualified/veteran teachers. "On average and regardless

Full document contains 147 pages
Abstract: The purpose of this qualitative study was to look at the experiences of veteran teachers in public schools in central Texas. Veteran teachers from secondary schools were interviewed and the information collected from the interviews was analyzed to ascertain the lived experience among veteran public school teachers in Texas and how their experience related to their classroom retention. Research done by the Texas Education Agency in 2003 showed the impact on the lives and academic achievement of students excelled at a greater rate when a student was educated by a veteran teacher versus a teacher with 4 or less years of teaching experience. With the influx of teachers leaving the profession yearly, the number of veteran teachers in classrooms has diminished. For this phenomenological study in teacher retention, veteran teachers were interviewed to obtain their experience and denote the impact that experience had on student achievement and the impact it placed on veteran teachers desire to remain in the classroom. The participants were interviewed in the areas of personal satisfaction; educational training and background; job satisfaction; salary range; support on the job; career background and future career plans. Information ascertained from the guided interviews in the cited areas was recorded, coded and analyzed for common themes. As the transcripts were analyzed, the researcher found emerging themes among the participants. The experience of these veteran teachers revealed certain common elements that evidenced the phenomenon of their retention. The elements found were: an overall positive attitude regarding their occupation; support on the job; love of students and subject; value of education/learning; natural teaching ability; desire to stay on the job and professional development; all which played an active role in them remaining in the classroom, as well as, what factors encourage novice educators to become veterans in the field of teaching.