Report: Wave of Teacher Retirements Demands New Mentoring Program to Train Next Generation of Teachers

Increased retirement among experienced teachers over the next few years coupled with high attrition rates for beginner educators, places our education system in a precarious position. According to a report by the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future (NCTAF), the "traditional teaching career is collapsing at both ends, older teachers are retiring and beginner teachers are being driven away by antiquated preparation practices, outdated school staffing policies, and inadequate career rewards."  The consequences of high turnover is that schools, particularly high poverty schools, must divert focus and resources from efforts aimed at combating student achievement gaps to initiatives which address teaching quality gaps.  

Not only might one-third of of today's most experienced teachers potentially retire over the next four years, but within the next decade it is possible that more than half of today's teachers will leave the school system. This high level of retirement will not only leave school systems without veteran teachers with a wealth of experience, but also put large pressures on retirement systems.  Mass replacement of experienced veteran teachers with inexperienced beginners, however, is not an ideal or effective solution, since beginning teachers have yet to hone their craft and the attrition rates for new teachers have been rising steadily for more than a decade. According to some estimates in certain school districts "half of new hires are replaced every five years."     

The NCTAF report urges policy makers to reorganize educational institutions to create learning teams to maintain experienced teachers and train new ones. Specifically, the report recommends:

  • Changing retirement policies to make it both attractive and feasible for talented veteran teachers to remain in the classroom, so that younger teachers still in the process of learning their craft can have mentors;
  • Establishing cross”generational learning teams composed of, among others, veteran and beginner educators;
  • Setting pay scales to reflect not only length of services but also rewards for teamwork between educators that improves student achievement and overall school performance.

The recommended learning teams are said to be cost effective, since they can help alleviate pressure on pension systems which will occur if a large number of teachers retire at the same time, allow schools to better leverage resources, and ensure new teachers have mentors during their first few, and typically most difficult years.  Highlighted examples and study results on how learning teams help increase academic achievement included in the NCTAF report are:

  • A lauded learning team educational model is already in place in some schools in Boston.  
  • An Education Sector report on a school improvement initiative in Tennessee found that "the effect on student achievement of merit pay for new teachers was less than the effect of steady improvements in existing teachers' effectiveness as a result of increased mentoring, support, and stronger collaborative leadership."
  • National Center for Educational Achievement study (2006) of "250 schools in 20 states examined the "best practices" of 140 elementary and secondary schools that consistently outperformed demographically similar schools for at least three consecutive years across several grades on state exams. The study revealed that these proven track records of success were found in schools that had clear goals and instructional strategies that were developed through school”wide collaborative teamwork."  

Now, due to the economic downturn and individuals wanting to remain in the workforce longer, is opportune time cities and states to consider efforts to keep quality veteran teachers.   


National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, Learning Teams: Creating What's Next
Report Envisions Shortage of Teachers as Retirements Escalate
The Benwood Plan: A Lesson in Comprehensive Teacher Reform