We must keep our most effective educators in the classroom and public education. We are losing too many good educators due to frustration, increased job demands, workload, and quality of life issues. Retention is critical.
Retiring teachers or retired teachers may be willing to return to the job for the right opportunity. As much as we talk about teachers, we do not really look at the tremendous human capital challenges and opportunities that are right in front of us.
Teachers are the number one in-school influence on student achievement. Teacher turnover is highest in schools serving the largest populations of students of color. Data indicates that teacher attrition has nearly doubled in the last 25 years. In fact, 16–30% of teachers leave the teaching profession each year. It is estimated by some that school districts now spend $1B to $2.2B per year nationally replacing teachers. In many districts, the average cost to replace a teacher is about $20,000 each.
That is why we urge support for crucial legislation from State Senator Adam Lowe and Representative Iris Rudder to address this critical need. The legislation, Senate Bill 0846 and House Bill 0917 will expand previous legislation which will be automatically repealed on July 1, 2027. This bill helps to keep high-quality educators in our classrooms and rewards excellence, helping fill a vital demand across the state by allowing retired teachers to draw their full pension while still teaching in the classroom. It also saves districts and schools money long term. The legislation is on the Council on Pensions agenda for Monday, March 6, 2023, at 1:00 p.m. in House Hearing Room III.
As currently written, the difference from previous legislation is retirees will be able to draw 100% of their retirement, rather than 70%. In addition, the retired member can be reemployed for up to five (5) years, in one (1) year increments starting when they enter the program, from the member's effective date of retirement. A retired teacher will not be required to be evaluated, and any Educator License will be automatically extended if the educator is employed via the Tennessee Deferred Retirement Option Program. They will, however, be required to participate in professional learning that is mandated by the LEA or Charter School.
Experience in the classroom matters. It takes years of experience to master the complex field of teaching. Effectiveness increases substantially for the first twelve years a teacher is on the job. As teachers gain experience, their student absenteeism rates decline. Students with a highly effective teacher three years in a row can score 50 percentile points higher on achievement tests than students who have a less effective teacher three years in a row.
According to researcher Kevin Mahnken roughly 1,100 of Tennessee’s 1,740 schools had staffing issues. Mahnken described the issues this way: “… A reasonable proxy for teacher shortages; while virtually all schools occasionally have to deal with unfilled jobs, classrooms that begin the academic year with insufficient or uncertain staffing may struggle to accelerate learning and establish relationships between students and teachers.”
When it comes to educating a child, nearly everything is contingent on the quality of the teacher in the classroom. We should give schools and districts flexibility, and reward experience. Imagine a school system where we build an experienced teaching workforce of high-quality individuals. The teachers our schools need may already be in the schools. Let’s keep those who want to stay on and have proven their ability to get the job done. We should support Senator Lowe and Representative Iris Rudder in their efforts.
JC Bowman is the executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee