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Research on New Teachers Shows a Changing Profession

43% of New Teachers in New Jersey Plan to Leave Classroom Teaching; Nearly Half are Mid-Career Entrants

At a time when U.S. schools will need to hire over two million new teachers to serve a growing number of students and replace a large cohort of retiring teachers, new research findings from the Harvard Graduate School of Education suggest that 43% of new teachers do not anticipate staying in the classroom as full-time teachers for their entire careers. The findings, part of a study of first- and second-year teachers in New Jersey, also show that 46% of the state's new teachers are mid-career entrants to the field, suggesting that mid-career entrants are becoming teachers in roughly the same numbers as first-career entrants. Researchers at HGSE's Project on the Next Generation of Teachers also found that compared with 6% of first-career entrants, a greater proportion (19%) of the mid-career entrants participated in alternative certification instead of traditional teacher education programs.

"New teachers today do not all fit the stereotypical image of 22-year-olds embarking upon their first careers after graduating from university teacher education programs," says Susan Moore Johnson, a professor at HGSE and Director of the Project on the Next Generation of Teachers. "Given the crisis-level teacher shortage that many districts are already experiencing, we need to provide the support and opportunities necessary to keep this diverse group of individuals in the classroom, teaching effectively."

Findings suggest that while almost all of the new teachers anticipate staying in education for the remainder of their working lives, many of them report that they expect to move on to education-related jobs other than classroom teaching (curriculum development, professional development, administration). Compared to the mid-career entrants, a greater proportion of the first-career entrants anticipate leaving the classroom over time.

Findings:

  • Forty-six percent (46%) of new (i.e., first- and second-year) teachers in New Jersey in the 2000-2001 school year had entered teaching from a career other than teaching.
  • Fifty-four of (54%) of new (i.e., first- and second-year) teachers in New Jersey in the 2000-2001 school year entered teaching as their first career.
  • The average age of the mid-career entrants in New Jersey is 33. Almost a quarter (24%) of the mid-career entrants are over the age of 40.
  • The average age of the first-career entrants in New Jersey is 26. Ninety-two percent (92%) of these first-career teachers are in their twenties.
  • Almost one-fifth (19%) of mid-career entrants in New Jersey received certification through an alternative certification program.
  • Only six percent (6%) of first-career entrants in New Jersey received certification through an alternative certification program.
  • Ninety-four percent (94%) of the mid-career entrants in New Jersey stated that they expect to stay in education for the remainder of their careers. But of the mid-career entrants who expect to stay in education long term, almost one-fifth (19%) reported that they do not anticipate staying as classroom teachers for their entire careers.
  • Ninety-three percent (93%) of first-career teachers in New Jersey stated that they expect to stay in education for the remainder of their careers. But of this group, over two-fifths (43%) reported that rather than remain in classroom teaching for their entire careers, they would like to move onto other positions in education such as curriculum development, professional development, or administration.

Recommendations:

According to researchers at the Project on the Next Generation of Teachers, schools can move toward retaining new teachers by accounting for the different career experiences, types of teacher preparation, and career orientations of the two groups. Researchers suggest that schools and districts:

  • Provide school-based training and support: Project researchers stress that training and support at the school site is particularly important given that entrants enter the field at varying levels of preparedness, and often make decisions about whether to remain in the field after having classroom experience.
  • "The school site has become the primary training ground for many who enter the field through alternative certification programs," explains Edward Liu, one of two researchers at the Project on the Next Generation of Teachers who designed and carried out the New Jersey survey study. "Classrooms are also the place where teachers most often make the decision whether to remain in classroom teaching, and lack of training and support in the classroom can have a critical impact on this decision. While states and districts can assume responsibility for increasing pay, reducing or altering entry requirements, or creating career ladders, such initiatives will ultimately make little difference if a teacher is dissatisfied with teaching. And it is at the school site, rather than the district, where key factors influencing new teachers' experiences converge; it is there that induction efforts should be centered."
  • Create opportunities for variation and advancement within teaching: Because a large proportion of first-career teachers anticipate moving into non-classroom-teaching jobs sometime during their careers, project researchers surmise that they are looking for variety in their work. Also, since mid-career entrants bring professional experiences from outside education, new career structures might create new roles that can tap some of that expertise.

"Because we found that many new teachers approach teaching tentatively or conditionally," says Susan Kardos, another project researcher and co-investigator on the survey study, "retaining them may be more difficult than retaining the previous generation. For those who will pursue teaching for the long-term, the possibility for differentiated roles and the possibility of redesigned work holds promise, while for those who envision short-term careers, meaningful support at the school site might ensure that they enter and remain in teaching and do their work well."

Background:

The Project on the Next Generation of Teachers (www.gse.harvard.edu/~ngt/par/) at the Harvard Graduate School of Education is a multi-year research project addressing critical questions about the future of our nation's teaching force by studying how best to attract, support, and retain quality teachers in U.S. public schools.

Principal investigator Susan Moore Johnson and researchers Sarah Birkeland, Susan M. Kardos, David Kauffman, Edward Liu, and Heather G. Peske dedicated the first year of the Project to conducting an interview study with first-year and second-year Massachusetts teachers. Eighteen months later, follow-up interviews with these teachers are now underway. Papers from this study are forthcoming in Educational Administration Quarterly, Teachers College Record, and Phi Delta Kappan. The researchers are also analyzing hiring practices in schools, and continuing to work on teachers' careers, professional culture, principals' leadership, and curriculum. Plans have been developed for a multi-site case study of alternative certification programs. In subsequent years, the Project will study effective minority recruitment strategies, career ladders, and new teachers' attitudes toward teacher unions.

The New Jersey study was designed and carried out by Susan M. Kardos and Edward Liu of the Project on the Next Generation of Teachers. Kardos and Liu randomly selected a sample of 110 new teachers in New Jersey teaching at both charter and non-charter public schools, and surveyed them about their experiences with the hiring process and the professional culture. The Project on the Next Generation of Teachers will conduct a follow-up survey in four states.

The Project on the Next Generation of Teachers is funded by the Spencer Foundation.

For More Information

More information about the ongoing research of the Project on the Next Generation of Teachers can be found at www.gse.harvard.edu/~ngt/par/. For more information, contact Susan Moore Johnson at 617-495-4677, Susan Kardos at 617-496-7468, or Christine Sanni at 617-496-5873 or christine_sanni@harvard.edu.