Teachers in the induction years are good barometers for the state of teacher education. Massive retirements of experienced teachers, high attrition rates of new teachers, and strained economic times confront public schools in many areas of the United States. The alarming consequence is that students' achievement is often hindered by the inexperience of teachers (Kukla-Acevedo, 2009). Furthermore, lasting connections between the school and the broader communities become more rare. With national attention focused on student dropout rates (Bracey, 2009; Grey, 2008), it is time to consider the alarming dropout rates of teachers (Singleton-Rickman, 2009) and consider the impact of school climate on teacher retention.
The national dialogue regarding teacher retention and recruitment assumed new significance for us as teacher educators as we engaged in conversations with one first-year teacher graduate of our elementary program, whom we will call Monique. Through a yearlong study that included observations, interviews, and analysis of written reflections, we were privy to her classroom and work environment. We gained insight into how her teaching identity was formed and reinforced in the school climate. We assert that beginning teachers must be acutely aware of how their own thoughts and actions significantly influence their professional climate. Those teachers who consciously consider these components are better prepared to create and maintain elements of positive school climates, which contribute to increased professional satisfaction and the subsequent retention of promising teachers. This article outlines five strategies for beginning teachers (and those who support them) to foster teacher empowerment and maintain affable work environments in the induction years. These strategies were derived from our work with Monique, and supported by the larger body of research.
We first met Monique during her undergraduate work at our university. Her academic achievements, passion for teaching, maturity, school involvement, peer connections, and other leadership qualities distinguished her from many students. She excelled in seemingly all areas: she completed a double academic major with a high grade point average, and competed on the swim team. She participated in an academic honors program, and her thesis received first place at a national social sciences competition. Upon graduation, Monique received multiple job offers in a highly competitive area of the country. She chose to work with a diverse population of students at a school that had failed to meet annual yearly progress, as defined by No Child Left Behind (2001). We considered Monique to be one of our most successful teacher candidates.
As we followed Monique into her first year of teaching, we began to see how important the school environment is in the formation of a teaching identity. Her sense of optimism and readiness to "change the world" was quickly challenged by an acculturation of negativity. In only a few months time, she transformed from a high-achieving preservice candidate into a high-risk beginning teacher, unsure if she wanted to remain in the profession. Ultimately, the degree to which she feels successful and effective as a teacher will determine whether or not she remains in the field. In...