Marc's Rants


Adapted from an article that originally appeared in Thrust for Educational Leadership, January-February 2000.

Technology as a tool for teacher recruitment and retention

The demands of enrollment growth and class size reduction have taken their toll, resulting in the worst shortage of fully credentialled teachers in decades. Even worse, one in six teachers is expected to retire within the next decade. Worst of all, new teachers exiting a credential program and entering the classroom often do not stay for long; the California Department of Education reports that fully half of beginning teachers leave the profession within five years.

The reasons for this brain drain are complex. Are new teachers too stressed out by the rigors of the classroom? Are those who enter the classroom doing so as a stepping stone to some other career? Are they leaving the classroom for school administrative positions? Since more than 70 percent of California teachers are female, is at least part of the exodus due to mommy tracking? The 650 words of this column cannot do justice to these and many other questions. However, I can suggest some ways to use technology in improving a school's or district's ability to recruit and retain qualified teachers.

Technology training leads to success. Ongoing professional development in technology, lead by competent trainers, helps teachers feel more comfortable with their working environment. In addition, when used by knowledgeable teachers, technology in the classroom can augment or even transform student learning. Active learning leads to successful students. Successful students lead to more satisfied teachers. More satisfied teachers don't quit to do something else.

Use the most technologically frustrated teacher to mentor the rest. Lack of access, training, and familiarity are most cited as reasons for teacher frustration with technology. This frustration can exhibit itself as outright hostility. Tapping frustrated teachers as evangelists for a particular technology, providing them with the tools they need, and then sending them to training helps ease their frustration. Setting the teachers loose to mentor the rest of a school's staff makes them more knowledgeable about, confident in, and satisfied with their work. It also helps speed adoption of new technologies by encouraging staff through positive example and peer pressure ("If Jane, who hates computers, uses them, I should, too!") to develop expertise.

Use the Internet to recruit teachers. Schools and districts that use the Internet for teacher recruitment often see an increase in the number of applications for open positions. This is because they are simultaneously widening their applicant pool -- it's not called the World Wide Web for nothing -- and demonstrating that they are "with it" technologically to an audience of increasingly demanding applicants.

Augment curricula and classrooms with Web-based resources. Districts and schools should provide Web-based technologies for teachers and students to use in presenting and augmenting their syllabi and portfolios. This allows parents, students, and the community (where appropriate) to see what is happening in the classroom and often improves the classroom experiences of students and teachers.

The one with the most toys wins. The "toys" can make a working environment more acceptable, even when below-market salaries and other conditions in the school and community may add elements of stress, confusion, or personal danger. Even if your community has a positive reputation, buff it with additional technology polish.

The Flip Side

One commonly held misconception really stands out.

Myth: Older teachers are less inclined to use technology like computers, Internet connections, and teleconferencing in their classrooms. In actuality, recent polling by Education Week and the Milken Exchange on Education Technology shows that age has little to do with a teacher's conversance and comfort with technology. Moreover, less experienced and younger teachers do not, as a group, demonstrate a higher degree of technology acumen -- so don't treat variations in age and experience differently.

To summarize:

  • Teachers need and want training to use technology.
  • Teachers who appear hostile to technology can be motivated to embrace change by receiving adequate training and mentoring others.
  • Districts should maximize their use of the Internet for teacher recruitment and retention.

Marc Elliot Hall is ACSA's Webmaster. He can be reached with comments, questions, and suggestions at (916) 444-3216 or via e-mail.