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Breaking the Cycle of Teacher Turnover in Urban Schools: City Teaching Alliance’s Solution

If you had stepped into my school building during my first year as a lead teacher, you would have walked into chaos. There was a constant stream of teachers leaving, resulting in some classes having 3+ teachers in one year. My Kindergarten instructional assistant was pulled constantly to substitute teach–not a big deal for an experienced lead teacher, but anxiety-inducing for a first-year teacher figuring it out day by day. Fights erupted constantly in the cafeteria, hallways, and classrooms. Due to the instability, there was toxicity in the teacher culture. It was not an easy place to work by any means, and on some days, I would question my place there.  

Imagine what this experience was like for students that year. Put yourself in the shoes of the first grader whose teacher just stopped showing up and never returned. Imagine how you would feel. Imagine what students were thinking and feeling–what messages the absence of a trusted adult sent.

The stability of a school is closely tied to the teachers who walk its halls. Teacher turnover disrupts learning environments and impacts the well-being of students. City Teaching Alliance recognizes this challenge and believes that rigorous training and comprehensive wraparound support for new teachers has the power to break the cycle of teacher turnover in our schools.

What is the Teacher Turnover rate?

Teacher turnover refers to the rate at which teachers leave their positions within a school or district. It can be due to various reasons, including retirement, career changes, or dissatisfaction with the working environment. Teachers with little preparation and support are two to three times more likely to leave the profession, especially in districts that serve predominantly students of color.

How is Teacher Turnover Related to Urban Schools?

Due to complex factors, teacher turnover is a critical problem in education, particularly in urban schools. Educators who are new to the profession and who lack preparation and wrap-around support often switch schools or leave the classroom altogether. 

Chronic teacher turnover is rooted in longstanding disparities, where schools that serve students of color and students with fewer economic resources are consistently underfunded and understaffed, resulting in new teachers not getting the support they need to be successful.

What factors affect chronic teacher turnover?

My experience in classrooms and at City Teaching Alliance confirms what the research tells us: that under-preparation of and limited support for new teachers is a major factor in their future success and persistence in the profession. Schools should be places that support and cultivate the whole student. However, this is extremely challenging when teachers in the building are not well-prepared or well-supported.  

When reflecting on the experience I shared from my first year of teaching, students were never the problem. The problem was well-intentioned, eager adults that were simply not prepared for the complexity and challenges that come with teaching students well, and then not given the coaching support they needed to improve. Like any profession or skill, it takes time, targeted feedback, and hours of practice to become an excellent teacher. Teachers who continuously feel ineffective or overwhelmed and do not receive support and guidance often believe that they will never get better. This cycle of defeat often leads to teachers with great potential leaving the classroom, being replaced with another teacher lacking in preparation and support. 

It is critical that new teachers receive the preparation, support, and accountability partnership they need to develop, practice, and refine the skills of effective teaching.  Pre-service preparation, however, is not enough. Teachers need ongoing development, support, and accountability in their earliest years in the classroom to move from novice to expert and make the leap from good to great.  I received some targeted coaching support during my first year of teaching when I was struggling to keep my head above water, but that support disappeared once I reached my third year of teaching, and I was considered a veteran on my teaching team. That was the point, however, when I could have accelerated to a great teacher, with targeted development and support.

Addressing teacher turnover

We know that teacher turnover causes an inconsistent learning experience for students and impedes learning and achievement.  Equally damaging, watching a stream of adults cycle through a school building also sends implicit messages to students about who is committed to them, and may lead students to question their worth. We also know that investing deeply in teacher preparation and support can break the cycle of teacher turnover. A study from Learning Policy Institute identified the teacher residency model as a key solution for preventing teacher turnover: 

“…[R]esidents commit to teaching in the district for 3 to 5 years after their residency year. This has the triple benefit of filtering out candidates not willing to make a serious commitment to teach, ensuring that they are well prepared for the particular context in which they will teach, and continue to teach in high-needs schools as their effectiveness increases. Teacher residencies have been successful at recruiting teachers of color and mathematics and science teachers to high-need urban and rural districts, and yield above-average teacher retention rates even after 5 years.”1

Urban schools are vital spaces in our communities. They provide students and their families stability, support, and a sense of belonging. Teacher turnover disrupts this sense of community and can have far-reaching consequences, affecting not just the students but the broader neighborhood as well.

City Teaching Alliance’s Approach to Break the Cycle of Teacher Turnover

We at City Teaching Alliance recognize the critical role of teachers in urban education and have developed an approach to address the challenges of teacher turnover:

Our Approach

City Teaching Alliance focuses on preparing effective career educators who can accelerate student achievement and disrupt systems of racial and socioeconomic inequity. Our approach is built around rigor, cultural responsiveness, individualized support, and immersion in our school communities. We know this is the best way to serve our students.

Our Teaching Toolbox

We equip our teachers with a comprehensive toolbox to thrive:

  • Culturally Responsive Teaching: We provide training and support to help teachers proactively integrate and honor diverse cultural backgrounds. Culturally responsive teaching leverages the unique cultural knowledge, experiences, and perspectives of all students while affirming students’ racial and cultural identities to foster successful academic outcomes and power students as change agents. 
  • Continuous Support: Unlike many traditional teacher preparation programs, we offer ongoing support as teachers transition from aspiring to novice to veteran educators. In fact, we offer substantial wraparound support for teachers including peer-to-peer and faculty/staff mentorship, free-of-charge mental health counseling services, wellness resources, and financial direct support and guidance. 
  • Community Engagement: We place our teachers in communities where we have deep connections to ensure our educators know, love, and respect the communities they teach in. This approach benefits our students and provides teachers with a strong support network.

Breaking the cycle of teacher turnover in our schools is a complex challenge, but it’s one that City Teaching Alliance is committed to addressing. Our four-year program is designed to prepare teachers who are well-qualified and deeply committed to making a lasting impact in urban classrooms. We invite you to learn more about our pathway and begin your journey to becoming an educator. Together, we can create positive change and provide a stable, supportive environment for students in our communities.

1 Carver-Thomas, D. & Darling-Hammond, L. (2017). Teacher turnover: Why it matters and what we can do about it. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute.

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