Rethinking the Teaching Profession

The quality of instruction has a bigger influence on student achievement than any other school-related factor. Yet despite decades of research proving the importance of great teachers, evidence shows that many teachers are dissatisfied with their profession and are actively seeking alternatives to the classroom.

Massachusetts lost nearly 8,000 teachers in the last school year. The Commonwealth’s teacher retention rate is the lowest in recent history. Teachers report high levels of job stress, insufficient support, and a lack of schedule flexibility. Recently, a national poll found that only 37% of parents would like their children to become public school teachers, the smallest percentage since the poll started in 1969. The teaching role is at a critical juncture. Something must be done to make this essential profession more flexible, sustainable, and attractive. But what?

We’re exploring this question as part of our Condition of Education project and its focus on rethinking education. To start finding possible solutions, we went to the field, gathering educators in a community forum and meeting with education leaders from across the state. These groups, representing diverse perspectives and experiences across the education sector, generated innovative ideas for potential solutions that we wanted to share with you. This is not a formal list of recommendations (though we will get there eventually). Instead, this is simply a crowdsourced set of ideas for how to better attract and retain educators.  

1. Improve pathways into the teaching profession
One common theme in our discussions with the field has been around improving and expanding pathways into teaching. Some specific suggestions included providing low- or no-cost preparation options for aspiring teachers to get their required degrees and licensure so that they are not burdened by or burnt out from debt; subsidizing the cost of licensure exams and providing free test preparation; revamping traditional teacher preparation programs by offering classroom experience in the first year of the program; strengthening pathways for paraprofessionals to become teachers; engaging students in the teaching profession early (while they are still in school) through internships; and incentivizing teaching as an option for career changers. See complete summary >

2. Bolster support for new teachers
Another theme that arose is the need to better support teachers in their first five years in the profession. Some specific ideas included providing opportunities for new teachers to co-teach and co-plan with experienced educators; providing a bank of collaborative lessons to teachers so that they don’t have to lesson plan from scratch; reducing new teacher workloads to provide more time for coaching, planning, and professional development; providing intensive, ongoing coaching on high-quality instruction; and offering frequent and supportive observations and strong mentorship that are not connected to evaluation. See complete summary >

3. Incentivize experienced educators to stay in the classroom
Strengthening the retention of excellent, experienced teachers was another consistent piece of feedback. Specific ideas included providing paid opportunities for classroom teachers to participate in school or district policy decisions; making new teacher development a core component of experienced educators’ roles; revising the educator career ladder so teaching is not positioned as a means to an end (a position in administration); and offering flexible instructional coaching roles that enable experienced educators to teach part-time and coach and/or work in an administrative role part-time. See complete summary >

4. Provide opportunities for flexibility
During our forum with educators, both new and experienced teachers voiced concerns about limited flexibility and poor work-life balance in the teaching profession. Ideas to address this concern included shifting teachers’ work to a team-based structure with educators working collaboratively to support more students; offering spaces for teachers to share best practices and collaborate on planning; providing teachers with more support for non-instructional tasks (e.g., making copies or cleaning the classroom); shifting to a four-day teaching week, with one school day focused on enrichment led by community partners; and utilizing paraprofessionals to lead certain components of lessons in order to free up teachers’ time for grading and preparation during the school day. See complete summary >


This is just the start of our journey to rethink education. In addition to researching the ideas above, we will also be digging into two more areas we think are primed for change: when students learn and where students learn. Stay tuned for more as this work unfolds!