Teachers Helping Teachers program attempts to boost teacher retention

Jim Carlson
March 16, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Research has shown that the number of teachers leaving the profession after a brief tenure is growing, and the Penn State College of Education Alumni Office has launched a program attempting to curtail that trend.

Statistics vary on retention rates, but University of Pennsylvania research shows one in 10 teachers quits after a year and nearly 50% of new teachers leave teaching within five years; research from the Pennsylvania Department of Education supports that finding. 

"Penn State Proud: Teachers Helping Teachers," spearheaded by the Alumni Society Board’s Academic and Career Enrichment (ACE) committee, includes a robust suite of offerings for new graduates, according to Stefanie Tomlinson, assistant director of alumni relations in the College of Education Alumni Office.


Stefanie Tomlinson

IMAGE: Penn State

“One focus area for Teachers Helping Teachers is professional development,” Tomlinson said. “Specifically, the ACE committee will be selecting topics and recruiting speakers for this year's New Teacher Webinar series, which will be held at noon Tuesdays in July.” 

“The committee members also will be working very diligently on crafting communications that include events and online professional resources, as well as keeping 2021 graduates engaged with their alma mater, and connected to each other.”

Retention issues are unique to each school district, according to committee member Tonnie DeVecchis-Kerr, retired superintendent of the Moshannon Valley School District in Houtzdale, Clearfield County. 

“In order for the school district to have a successful education program, teacher retention is key. To increase overall district success, a consistent staff will provide the most stability for the children,” she said.

“Equality of salary between districts can have an impact on retaining teachers. Also, geographic location can often be a drawing card whereas districts located near cities and towns that can offer culture events, social venues, etc. and with a higher socioeconomic situation may be more successful in attracting and retaining teachers. These districts also may offer a high salary and be able to provide a more attractive employment package,” she said.

Another ACE member, Cathy Tomon, principal of Bridges School in Morehead City, North Carolina, noted that the growing world of technology and virtual learning has enabled many educators to teach for companies and earn higher salaries than in the public schools.

“Especially in the areas of science and math, it is difficult to find teachers that are interested in teaching in the public schools with the high stake demands of testing,” Tomon said. “There are also many openings for exceptional-needs teachers. With those mandates alone, it is difficult to find highly qualified teachers.”

Tomon and DeVecchis-Kerr said they would stress to new teachers the importance of building in-school relationships as well as communication between students, staff and especially parents.

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions,” Tomon said. “Find someone in your building that you can bond with, build a relationship and communicate daily. Join organizations such as your state education association or an association affiliated with your degree. The more you get involved, the happier you will be."

DeVecchis-Kerr cited the importance for students to become familiar and comfortable with the culture and values of the district.

“Typical first-year concerns with new teachers can include classroom management, special education background and knowledge, and adjustment to the culture of the district and the community,” she said.

DeVecchis-Kerr and Tomon join Doug Womelsdorf, director of curriculum and instruction in the Mountain View School District in Kingsley, Pennsylvania, on the ACE committee initiative to help address teacher retention.

“I am extremely proud of Doug, Tonnie and Cathy,” Tomlinson said. “They are very busy in their own classrooms and yet they are still making Penn State Proud: Teachers Helping Teachers a top priority to ensure recent Penn State graduates are prepared to be successful in their own classrooms.”

Womelsdorf, citing the late Rita Pierson, a former award-winning teacher in Texas, said great teachers value and understand the importance of human connection and focus their work on building relationships in ways that transform individual students, classrooms and entire schools. 

“Every child in your classroom deserves a champion and for many children, that champion is you,” Womelsdorf said about teachers in general. 

All teachers, along with their students, have faced hardships the past year because of COVID-19 and varieties of remote learning that developed in place of in-person instruction. 

“Online learning environments create a unique set of challenges to both new teachers as well as veteran teachers,” Womelsdorf said. “As teachers develop their rigorous standards-aligned lessons and assessments, they must identify and understand their instructional targets while being mindful of how the content and skills will be introduced, practiced and later assessed in a virtual environment.”

Another goal of the Penn State Proud: Teachers Helping Teachers initiative is to keep alumni connected to Penn State, particularly the College of Education, according to DeVecchis-Kerr.

“As we reach out to the students following graduation, we will provide the Teachers Helping Teachers, Penn State Proud (quarterly) newsletter,” she said. “It will include links to professional development, resources, organizations, upcoming College of Education events and information related to the digital classroom which will be helpful and beneficial to the new teacher.”

Tomon said that while most new teachers will be paired with mentors in their school districts, Teachers Helping Teachers can offer a support or buddy system to alumni located anywhere in the world.

“New ideas with a Penn State connection … the sky is the limit,” she said.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated March 16, 2021