Elaine's story is personally unique. But multiply her decision thousands of times and you get an idea of one of the most serious problems facing schools — every fall, school districts must hire about 270,000 new K-12 teachers to replace those who have left the profession.
The problem of teacher turnover is especially acute among new teachers, with as many as half of new teachers leaving within five years. In urban districts, the problem is worse. It only takes about three years for half of new teachers to leave.
"Retaining teachers is a far larger problem than recruiting new ones," notes Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor at Stanford University who has increasingly played a national role in teacher preparation policy issues. The main dilemma, she adds, "is an exodus of new teachers from the profession."
Students, especially those in high-poverty schools, bear the brunt of the problem. Too often they are taught by teachers who have not yet developed the experience and skills to be most effective, or who aren't even teaching in their area of expertise.
Studies have repeatedly found that the single most important variable in student achievement is the quality of the teachers. But how does a school or district develop and hold on to the best teaching staff possible?