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Report: More than 50% of Alabama teachers leave first classrooms within 3 years

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

In 2018, 3,291 first-time teachers entered Alabama’s public K-12 classrooms. By the end of 2020, 1,721 of them had left those schools.

More than 50% of new educators leave their first classrooms within three years, according to a new interim report on teacher retention by the Alabama Commission on Evaluation of Services.

By comparison, nationally, 44% of new teachers leave their first post within five years, according to the report.

“There are some root causes that are making (Alabama teachers) leave and it probably needs to be dug into deeper,” Marcus Morgan, director of ACES, told Alabama Daily News. The commission was created in 2019 to assess the effectiveness of various state programs.

Only 18 of 143 Alabama school districts have a first-time teacher retention rate above 60% since 2016, according to ACES.

While the report doesn’t say where those teachers are going — to other schools or to other professions — it highlights how a “churning turnover” creates financial and academic challenges for schools.

“If you’re trying to replace a certified math teacher, you’ll have to look harder and longer,” Patrick Dean, ACES’ assistant director, said.

According to the report:

  • Since 2013, about 4% of Alabama’s teachers are terminated each year;
  • Each year, at least 25% of teachers receiving their first teaching certificate do not enter public education; and
  • Since 2014, non-traditional teacher certificates, including alternative and emergency certifications, have outpaced traditional certificates. But recent data shows teachers with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education are more likely to stay in the classroom.

“… [W]ith non-traditional certifications continuing to rise, Alabama needs to improve retention of this population or risk escalating an already high turnover rate,” the ACES report said.

Alabama teachers are eligible for tenure after three years, but Morgan said ACES did not find that to be a driver in early teacher turnover.

The report’s turnover rate data makes sense to Alabama Commission of Higher Education Executive Director Jim Purcell, who has studied the state’s teacher shortage in recent years.

Data from ACHE showed that only 66% of Alabama college graduates with bachelor’s degrees in education are working in Alabama five years after getting their diplomas. Only 44% were working in education.

Sen. Arthur Orr, who chairs ACES, agreed more information is needed on where these educators are going, especially as the state’s unemployment rate is at a record low and various industries compete for educated and skilled workers.

Orr, R-Decatur, also wondered if young teachers are overwhelmed by some of the issues they see in their classrooms, including poverty, bad behavior or school politics.

Last year, ACHE surveyed about 17,700 K-12 employees, most of them teachers, and found that 6% planned to leave within one year. Another 32% planned to leave within five years.

“There was a big preponderance of teachers who were really considering (teaching) to be a short-term situation,” Purcell said.

Some were leaving for other school systems or retiring. Many leaving the profession listed unruly students, salaries and lack of instructional preparation time as reasons.

Purcell said state policy makers should also note that those educators with no plans to leave soon also have frustrations, including low teacher to student ratios and disrespectful parents.

“They have the same concerns (as those who are leaving), they feel unappreciated and undervalued,” Purcell said. “We need to take care of those who are staying.”

Purcell praised Alabama lawmakers and Gov. Kay Ivey for the 2023 budget package approved this month. It includes a 4% raise for all educators and salary bumps for mid-career educators. Teachers with nine or more years of experience would get raises ranging from 5% to up to nearly 21% for those with 35 years of classroom experience. Alabama’s average starting teacher salary is higher than any of its surrounding states, according to information from the Southern Regional Education Board.

The evaluation commission last fall published its first analysis of teacher recruitment and retention. It showed that the teacher to student ratio in Alabama public schools had improved in recent years, in part because of a decline in student enrollment. It also indicated an overall increase in the number of total educators but a continued increase in “out of field” teachers in classrooms, meaning they’re not certified in the subjects they’re teaching.

Later this spring, ACES will release a final teacher recruitment report that includes recommendations, as Alabama continues efforts to improve.


Eighteen school districts in Alabama have a first-time teacher retention rate above 60% since 2016.

  • Scottsboro City 79%
  • Roanoke City 76%
  • Franklin County 75%
  • Mountain Brook City 74%
  • Trussville City 74%
  • Tuscumbia City 73%
  • Lauderdale County 69%
  • Hartselle City 68%
  • Marshall County 68%
  • Geneva City 67%
  • Cherokee County 65%
  • Arab City 64%
  • DeKalb County 64%
  • Saraland City 64%
  • Houston County 63%
  • Attalla City 60%
  • Jasper City 60%
  • Etowah County 60%

Source: Alabama Commission on the Evaluation of Services



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