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Study connects teacher preparation with staying in the field

image of Nancy Latham, Steven Mertens, and Kira Hamann

Nancy Latham, Steven Mertens, and Kira Hamann

Statistics have shown that nearly 50 percent of teachers leave the teaching field within the first three to five years, making teacher attrition a subject for which researchers want to find answers. A team of three faculty members from Illinois State’s College of Education (COE) have delved deeper into the topic using 14 years’ worth of data specifically from Illinois State graduates. The research focuses on how the teachers were prepared versus how long they stayed in the teaching field.

Professor Nancy Latham, Associate Professor Steven Mertens and Instructional Assistant Professor Kira Hamann have examined data from over 6,600 teachers from 1997-2010. “I have always been interested in why teachers leave the field, because I think it’s been a bucket with holes in the bottom—we are pouring a lot in, but we lose a lot to attrition in the first three to five years,” said Latham.  It is common knowledge that teachers do not make a lot of money, but Latham says money is not one of the reasons teachers gave for leaving the field. “It was things like dealing with administration, dealing with parents, and dealing with mandates,” she said.

The study looks at the way the teachers were prepared and if it made a difference on how long they worked in the teaching field. “ISU offers two different preparation models for teachers—the traditional teaching model and the PDS model,” said Hamann. Latham explained that the traditional model is when the student has a student-teaching position during their last semester of college, and the PDS (Professional Development School) model is when the student is in the classroom-setting their entire senior year of college.

“With the traditional teaching model, most students begin teaching in January and the teacher already has the room humming,” said Latham. “They haven’t worked through the logistics of the classroom setting.” However, with the PDS model, Latham explains the students are part of the classroom before school opens. “They are there when the teacher gets the room together, they are there for the first set of parent-teacher conferences, the second set of parent-teacher conferences, and all milestones throughout the year,” she said.

The findings strongly support that PDS-prepared teachers are more likely to persist in the field. “Their knowledge, experience, confidence, and comfort level far exceed those who prepare under the traditional student teaching model,” said Latham. She added that a principal called her for a reference on a student and wanted to know more about the PDS model because it was like talking to a second-year teacher during the interview.

However, Mertens explained that as beneficial as the PDS model is to students, it is also more expensive. “With the traditional model, most students go back home to student teach and can live at home,” he said. “With the PDS model, students have to go where there is a partnership, which means they have to pay rent for an extra semester. And it’s really hard for students to work because they are immersed in the experience,” added Mertens.

The team continues to collect data for their research with a new and improved method of gathering their information. “Up until a few years ago, we were only able to get Illinois public school data,” said Latham. “We now use data from the Illinois Department of Employment Security.”

The additional employment data shows through various codes in the system, which specific industry a teacher became employed in. “We know if the student went into education, higher education, educational administration, the insurance industry, retail, etc.,” said Latham. “We know if they leave teaching and if they come back.” Mertens also added they can see if the teacher has a part-time job just during the summer or if they have a second job at any given time. The data from the original study only showed data from Illinois public schools and no other business sector. “If the teacher left the field and went to work for a private school or another industry, they would show up in the original data as a teacher leaving the education field,” said Mertens.

The team believes their research has powerful implications for teacher education and their findings could be especially helpful during times when tough economic decisions are being made.  They also know that their findings raise additional research questions about teacher preparation models and practices.

Moving forward, the team hopes to gain more knowledge with the new data. “We would like to match this data on teacher attrition with student learning and student testing,” said Latham. “We would also like to examine the impact on student learning of having a PDS-trained teacher or a PDS student teacher in the classroom.”

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