Almost 40 percent of Metro teachers quit within first five years on the job

Sunday, April 3, 2011 at 10:05pm
Jude Ferrara/SouthComm

When teachers launch their careers at Metro Nashville Public Schools, many walk through proverbial revolving doors, accepting jobs as classroom instructors at the state’s second-largest school district but leaving shortly thereafter. 

Of all Metro teachers hired just five years ago, only 62 percent still teach in the school district. The others, nearly two out of every five teachers, either took teaching positions in different systems or quit the profession altogether. Approximately 30 percent made their exit around their third year. 

Metro’s low teacher retention rate is a phenomenon found in other urban school districts across the nation. In Middle Tennessee, the general consensus is that the area’s more affluent donut counties like Williamson or Rutherford have greater success in getting their teachers to stick around. A Tennessee Education Department representative told The City Paper the state doesn’t have such data for all school districts readily available. Parameters used by individual school systems to measure their turnover or retention rates tend to vary, but the urban-suburban rift is understood as a general rule. 

To look simply at teacher pay, often a tempting indicator, doesn’t tell the story. At Metro, teachers with a bachelor’s degree and no prior experience start at salaries of $34,059 per year, which is actually more than the $33,485 for the same subset at Williamson County Schools, looking at one nearby district as an example. 

The difference, most educators agree, is that teachers in Metro are accepting virtually the same salaries to take on much more demanding workloads that include challenges inherent in urban districts. They’re teaching students who come from decidedly poorer families. Three-fourths of Metro students qualify for federal free and reduced-price lunches. The Metro student population is also diverse, with 22 percent speaking first languages other than English. All these issues manifest in the classroom. 

“It is difficult to teach in urban school districts,” said Erick Huth, president of the Metro Nashville Education Association, the local teachers’ union. “All of our teaching candidates are not familiar with the problems associated with generational poverty before they come to our schools. Some of them find out that it is a much more difficult job than they envisioned.” 

For Metro schools, which is trying to engineer a seismic turnaround in both student achievement and public perception, retaining teachers — specifically top-tier instructors — is crucial. 

Director of Schools Jesse Register, with an assist from Mayor Karl Dean, last August kicked off a new initiative dubbed ASSET, or Achieving Student Success through Effective Teaching. Unveiled at a carefully crafted ceremony inside the downtown Hilton Hotel, the plan is the school district’s answer to its inability to attract and retain the best teachers.

Nearly eight months after the creation of ASSET, there is a potpourri of programs aimed at retaining top teachers. School officials are trying to offer more leadership opportunities for teachers, allowing them to take on additional roles. The district is also taking advantage of federal grant dollars to offer financial incentives to teachers who perform well in some of the district’s high-poverty, low-performing schools. Meanwhile, since his arrival two years ago, Register has installed new principals at several schools, partly to improve morale. 

These changes come with some lofty goals. While Register has acknowledged Metro will never be the easiest place to teach, he says he wants it to be a place where teachers seek to enter, not leave. He would like to shut the revolving door. 


The unveiling of ASSET made headlines for what it lacked — namely, a comprehensive performance-based pay plan to reward teachers whose students achieve high test scores. A year before, Register and Dean had created a committee to focus specifically on this topic. 

In fact, Metro is taking advantage of $36 million in federal grant dollars recently awarded to the state to offer financial incentives to effective teachers at 22 high-poverty Metro schools — elementary, middle and high schools. The five-year program runs through 2015, with the current year serving as a planning period. 

“In Metro Nashville, [the Tennessee Teacher Incentive Fund] is part of our human capital development plan, as well as part of our turning around low-performing schools plan — to be able to recruit, retain and reward the best educators in the schools where they are needed most,” said Merrie Clark, grant management coordinator at Metro schools.  

This month, schools officials are finalizing performance criteria to determine how teachers and principals can receive bonuses, which could range between $1,500 and $10,000 per year. Approximately 1,500 teachers will be eligible to cash in beginning next school year. Student achievement will play a part in the evaluation. Other factors could include a teacher’s willingness to take part in professional development training, fill difficult-to-staff positions and assume additional responsibilities such as mentoring students. Metro’s teachers’ union is involved in the discussions. 

Under the umbrella of ASSET, the district is in the process of creating its “Teacher Leadership Institute,” offered to educators in their third year at Metro who want to take on more responsibility. Promotion possibilities could include becoming what school officials call team leaders, grade chairs or instructional coaches, according to June Keel, the district’s assistant superintendent for human resources, who is helping oversee the program. 

The idea is to offer something more to the best and the brightest to keep them in Metro before they take their skills to a different field. One hundred and fifteen teachers across the county applied for the program. The district is currently whittling the list down to identify a final group of 30 participants by May 3. Taking advantage of federal “Race to the Top” dollars, selected teachers will go through yearlong leadership training while continuing their normal class schedules. 

Also new, Metro schools and Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of Education and Human Development partnered last fall to offer Metro middle school teachers a chance to earn a master’s degree. Under “Masters in Teaching and Learning in Urban Schools,” 15 selected teachers have been attending two nightly master’s-level classes per week focused on literacy, science or math, while also performing normal teaching duties at Bailey, Isaac Litton and Wright middle schools. The first group of teachers, committed to five years of teaching in Metro, is entering its second semester. 

According to Sharon Yates, a professor at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College, subject matter and content are delivered to teachers within the broader framework of urban schools. An “urban seminar” covers issues unique to the inner city. The goal of the partnership is to improve the teaching practices of instructors who confront some of the most demanding daily challenges.  

Two years ago, selective organizations such as Teach For America and The New Teacher Project arrived here, allowing recent graduates and others from outside academia to join the teaching ranks. Whether their performance exceeds that of traditional teachers has long been a source of debate. Even more curiosity has been directed at whether teachers from these groups continue to work in their districts or leave after their two-year teaching requirements end. 

Right now, teachers are the focal point of education reform on the state level. New state-mandated teacher evaluations are already on their way. In addition, Gov. Bill Haslam recently enjoyed his first legislative victory when a bill making it harder for teachers to gain tenure cleared the state House. Another Republican measure that would end the ability of teachers’ unions to collectively bargain is the subject of ongoing debate. 

Critics say statewide plans only add to the burden of teachers, who are modestly paid but face increasing pressure. How the state measures play into teacher retention efforts is unclear. 

“I think our turnover is already so bad in Nashville that it will have a minimal effect,” said Huth. “It may have a greater effect statewide, but we have anywhere from 400 to 800 positions we need to fill every year.”  

33 Comments on this post:

By: richgoose on 4/4/11 at 4:34

There probably is not anyone who is a member of any professional organization or Country Club who could not tell you what is the reason for the high turnover rate for teachers in the MNPS system. The problem is that the federal government does not like the answer.

By: artsmart on 4/4/11 at 5:11

Until people acknowledge the real problems nothing can or will change. Quit hiding and adress the real problems.

By: HokeyPokey on 4/4/11 at 5:21

So lemmie get this straight:

The GOP in the General Assembly says it's vital, vital I tell you that the time in grade for teacher tenure be pushed up to 5 years, instead of the current 3 year marker. Because, after all, the lazy, stupid teachers will be good for 3 years then relax in the comfy hammock of tenure where they absolutely cannot be touched or even told to put on clean underwear.

That's it, isn't it? So the real truth is nearly half of metro teachers can't stand the profession after 5 years and leave anyway.

Jeepers, GOP, how 'bout you focus on some real issues and let the teabags dry out for a while?


By: Community-carl-... on 4/4/11 at 5:35

The first 2 comments are certainly "politically correct." It's too bad that virtually everyone feels compelled to skirt around the elephants in the room. The "No Child Left Behind" program, while being a great campaign slogan for aspiring politicians, has and continues to creat huge morale problems among educators at every level. Educators are now held accountable for things totally beyond their control. The hard reality is, and always will be, a subgroup of students who don't want to be in school and learn, and will never meet mandated educational goals. It is sad, but it is what it is.

Another issue compounding the problem in Metro is embedded layers of incompetent administrative staff that perpetuate the problems. It seems like whenever it becomes apparent that one of the top level and/or supportive administrators at Bransford Ave. is clearly incompetent, that person ends up being promoted to a position of even higher authority, They have their own little world over there where they watch out and cover for each other.

By: the_sparkchaser on 4/4/11 at 6:01

"Director of Schools Jesse Register, with an assist from Mayor Karl Dean, last August kicked off a new initiative dubbed ASSET, or Achieving Student Success through Effective Teaching. Unveiled at a carefully crafted ceremony inside the downtown Hilton Hotel, the plan is the school district’s answer to its inability to attract and retain the best teachers"

And yet, at a MNPS high school, a VERY SUCCESSFU teacher with 26 years experience is being "reassigned" and removed - in effect, FIRED - from a position where she has had TREMENDOUS success, and no one, NO ONE, in the MNPS system can give a viable explanation for the move.

What a crock. Dr. Jesse Register is no better than his predecessor. And let's call things like they are, folks; there IS a certain segment of society that views any sort of authority as an opportunity to challenge said authority. If people would put HALF as much effort into supporting the school system as they do fighting against it and criticizing it, we would have the best education sysgtem in the world,. BAR NONE.

By: hummingbirdhill on 4/4/11 at 6:30

I agree with one part of the last post. I AM confused by the moves of veteran teachers and the program changes at least one school. How does MNPS explain removing a teacher with such success? They say she still has a job, but if the want to keep teachers, retain teachers, any move or transfer has be given to the teacher too.

It is a respect issue, respect the teaching process, repsect the passion a teacher but into his/her job and you will have loyal, devoted teachers.

By: Moonglow1 on 4/4/11 at 6:55

Moonglow1; according to the TN Tea Party teachers are so overpaid & bankrupting the state all caused by collective bargaining rights. I read recently that Jimmy Summerville wants to "break down" our teachers. Now really? Of course what more can we expect from the Tea Party (champions of corporate interests). And pay for performance is such bunk because a teacher cannot be responsible for the socioeconomic ills of inner city kids. But as a society we are responsible. But the Tea Party wants anarchy because they hate government & it is every man for himself as evidenced by the mean comments of legislators like Summerville. Why would teachers put up with this environment. But of course our legislators have the answer: intelligent design!! That will really make our children excel & able to compete in the global economy. We are so below other countries in math & science & now our buffoon legislators are sitting around focusing on creationism & reducing teachers rights, pay & benefits in addition to making disparaging remarks.

By: BigPapa on 4/4/11 at 7:46

I dont think the elephant in the room has anything to do with Tea Party, or No child left behind. Most of Metro's schools are full of poor black and latino kids that have no desire to be in school, there's little to no parental involvement, and actualy learning and teaching fall waaaaaaaayyyy down the priority list for the students as well as the school at large.
People go into teaching, not to act as semi-prison guards w/o guns, but to actually teach, so they leave. Any extra money earned at Metro over other counties is hazard pay, and it needs to be more considering the student body and leve of hazard.

By: Magnum on 4/4/11 at 9:47

First, they need to be able to identify their stars, which currently they fail over and over to do. I've seen several instances of teachers being middle of the pack, even drowning, in Metro and then going to suburban districts and being stars. Obviously, there are many factors that contribute to this, but administration's inability to identify these teachers is at least one of these factors. Another major issue is that Metro serves as an "always hiring" district due to their poor retention statistics. It is easy for a straight out of college teacher to get a job and get some experience. Many use the system for just this reason. Once they have some work experience/credentials, they move on to the suburb where they live/want to live. Its not hard to see the motivation to live and work in the same community. These schools are the schools their kids will go to, often have some sort of daycare benefit, reduce their drive, allow them to instruct college bound children with involved parents, etc. While they offer their own challenges, these challenges simply aren't comparable to the task of teaching in inner city schools.

By: shep43 on 4/4/11 at 10:04

MNPS doesn't want experienced teachers. I have 28 years of teaching experience and have been applying to Metro for 3 years and get even get an interview. They would have to pay me more than a beginning teacher so they pass me by. I have been a subsititute in Metro and know what I would be getting into. They would rather hire the Teach For America graduates than a teacher who has extensive teaching experience.

By: mg357 on 4/4/11 at 10:43

This compares to trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear minus the silk. Until you have a child who wants to learn rather than go to school and eat and hang out with their thug friends; this will always be the result. I for one don't blame the teachers for leaving. They are expected to handle so much crap and turn out scholars; it's ridiculous. The magnet and private schools have the edge here because principles apply and failure is not an option.

By: mnpseducator on 4/4/11 at 11:07

I teach in one of the most diverse and poor high schools in Metro and I have been an educator for 20 years. People love to think that they are experts on education, simply because the went to school. When was the last time you walked into one of our classrooms? I work with kids who are poor, yes, but So MANY work really really hard, and understand that education is the ticket out. There are tons of minority kids out there who are superstars- taking honors classes, creating and executing very complex service projects for their communities, job shadowing and interning in important companies across the city, and going on to college. No one denies that being a teacher in an urban school district is hard, but the work cannot be done in isolation. Come in and read to a class, mentor a student, tutor after school, step in and help your city. Take a break from your computer and roll up your sleeves and make a real difference.

By: nashvegasmom on 4/4/11 at 12:29

It's very simple. Smaller classroom sizes, respect from the community, parental support and respect for education and teachers, less frivolous paperwork. Let teachers do what they've trained for and long to do: teach the next generation so they may become an educated populace.

By: NewYorker1 on 4/4/11 at 1:46

I wish people would stop having all these damn bad-@$$ kids and putting more and more burdens on tax payers and the schools.

By: richgoose on 4/4/11 at 2:21

NEWHYORKER1........You are one of reasons that I read these forums. No one could have said it better than you. Humor and the truth make for great observations and answers.

By: NewYorker1 on 4/4/11 at 2:42

LOL... Thanks richgoose baby-cakes.

By: Ingleweird on 4/4/11 at 3:17

@Newyorker1: Be sure and let us know when yo have received your vasectomy; I'm sure society and indeed, taxpayers, could use less burdensome members than you,

@Richgoose: Same goes for you. Just because you believe something, does not qualify it as "truth." Now log off and go check your email; you should have a humorous message about Obama in whiteface in your inbox.

You Tweedle-Dees and Tweedle-Dum-Dums are such jackasses, I'm surprised you didn't have your own Mule Day exhibitions.

By: NewYorker1 on 4/4/11 at 3:57

Ingleweird, remember "a closed mouth gathers no foot". Or in my case, a foot, fist, elbows, uppercuts, jabs, down elbows, knees, sweeps, etc.

By: Ingleweird on 4/4/11 at 4:32

Ow, my jaw!
Gotta love internet anonymity, right?

By: GuardianDevil01 on 4/5/11 at 6:06

For decades it was easy to throw money at the problem of government education. Contrary to popular belief our nation has never spent more in real dollars on government education. Suddenly taxpayers have awoken to fiscal reality and this method is no longer favored. Politicians have to find another easy but not necessarily effective fix so they blame teachers. Now, I am not stating that there are not a lot of really bad teachers out there. But the biggest problem facing government education lies outside of the classroom. We are attempting to educate the 3rd or 4th generation of kids who have been indoctrinated with the entitlement mentality that government owes them everything. A place to live, food to eat, medical care... me, me, me! In addition they have been taught that nothing is ever their fault. As a result they have no incentive to get a real education. We would have more success trying to teach a dog to read, write, perform basic mathematical operations, and learn about science and history. We ask our teachers to attempt an impossible task. But this problem can be solved with a three-pronged attack: 1) Remove from the classroom the savages who go to school only to recruit gang members. They do nothing but disrupt the learning environment. Put them in cages and allow them to live like the wild animals they aspire to become. 2) Hold parents accountable for not only their kids' behavior but completing homework assignments, projects, and other forms of schoolwork. 3) Bring words like "lazy" and "stupid" back into the educational lexicon. Not all kids have ADD or learning disabilities. Some are simply lazy and stupid. While the word "accountability" is considered profane in most government and educational circles it is imperative to introduce this lost concept back into our culture.

By: BigPapa on 4/5/11 at 7:57

ou used to be able to drop out at age 16. Those kids went on to work construction jobs, became car mechanics, etc.. Now we make them stay in school until age 18. It's hard to say "We need to make it easier to drop out!" but we need to offer an alternative to the kid that's 16 and had 2 credits. All he (or she) will do is cause problems.

By: mg357 on 4/5/11 at 9:15

Excellent post Guardian; None of this is a mystery to most of us however; the fear of destroying a voting block or offending this *rogue* element has become paramount in today's society. Until you get the rotten apple out of the barrel, nothing will change. Someone with a spine needs to make the tough decisions for the well being of the kids who desire to learn and the parents who care whether they learn or not. The ones that remain make the rest look

By: Community-carl-... on 4/5/11 at 9:36

Contrary to what over-educated and overpaid school administrators would have you believe, not every young person attending public schools wants, or intends, to go to college. There is a desperate need for the availability of vocational schools for students wanting to acquire blue collar skills. Not everybody wants to be a computer programmer, business executive, or white collar worker. There still is, and always will be, a need for blue collar employees. And there is nothing wrong with blue collar employment....I respect anybody who works hard making an honest living while contributing to the good of society.

The No Child Left Behind program is a is not meeting the diverse needs of all students. The fact is, not every person is a traditional learner. Some kids should not be forced to remain in school against their will....this only results in behavior problems that affect learniing opportunities for ALL students, as well as creating headaches for teachers.

By: mg357 on 4/5/11 at 10:41

Carl; You must agree that the NCLB program has brought to the forefront the problems that exist in public education. I agree about the blue collar jobs and the work involved in that sector which is, as you say; honest and in many cases hard work for the ones who choose those professions. What to me is so mind boggling is the funding being thrown at a situation that bears all the ear marks of

By: AmyLiorate on 4/5/11 at 11:34

Hokey Poke - please find a map and tell us how many counties there are besides Metro (Davidson County)?

I hope our legislature doesn't listen to someone who would base the whole state on what's going on in one county. Or even a couple of counties.

Why that would be much like some bureaucrat off in DC telling 50 states how all their stuff should work... oh wait. That's part of the problem already isn't it. Damn the echo in here is amazing.

By: NewYorker1 on 4/5/11 at 12:31

OMG! I am looking rather ravishing today. Jacket (cashmere) - Armani, shoes - Cole Haan, pants - Hugo Boss, shirt - Hugo Boss, watch - OMEGA, cologne - Clive Christian.

By: richgoose on 4/5/11 at 1:08

NewYorker........Be careful of dropping name brands like you mention. Most of the people who post on this board will be heading down to WAL-MART looking for these brands.

By: pswindle on 4/5/11 at 1:11

Going after the teachers and their Unions is not the problem, the problem lies with the ones trying to tell the teachers and the Unions how to run the schools without any training or know how. The Director of Schools should be there for the teachers and the students and get our of Karl Dean's lap. The GOP has no business trying to run the schools either. They really have no idea what to do. Their goal is to do away with the unions, and that is the only sreason. They think that it can help them to stay in power, but that may backfire. Just about every family in TN has a connection to a teacher.

By: Community-carl-... on 4/5/11 at 4:18

Approximately 45 years ago when my wife (at the time) and I graduated from college we began our careers. She was hired as a teacher in MNPS and made approx. $9,000 per year. I also was certified to teach, but had worked in retail all through college, and was able to earn approx. $12,000 per year in that profession upon graduation.
Over subsequent years, teachers' unions fought for and won very large pay increases for educators. Meanwhile, people who remained in retail related career fields saw their compensation levels stagnate and lose ground to the cost of living.
Today, an entry level retail position typically pays less than $14,000 per year while an entry level teacher makes more than twice that. Additionally, after relatively few years experience, the educator's salary will have climbed substantially while the retail employee's salary will have changed very little.

(I left retail for a government job 20 years ago.)

The point of this story is that while I don't begrudge teachers for the money they earn, I also feel they have faired far better than the teachers' union would have you believe.

By: DREIFMA on 4/5/11 at 6:21

When we moved here 19.5 years ago I volunteered in the PENCIL program. I knew right then and there I was not going to send any of our children to the public schools. Childen in the halls, children not paying attention. We were sent the ones that couldnt pay attention even if they wanted to. The generational behavior of praising failure and having the high aspiration of becoming a drug dealer or neighborhood thug will continue untill the parents of these children are forced to do something other than pay lipservice to the education of their children. Standing around with signs and getting on the news to say we want better education for our children and then not spending a substantial amount of time with them at night going over the work they should be bringing home will not get it done. Oh I forgot, they dont have homework because so many students wont do it and we cant have them left behind now can we. This country is going to pay a terrible price for the lowering of standards and the praise of diversity when that diversity includes failure and aspirations to criminal behavior. When the foreign loans are shut off, the Great Society of Lyndon Johnson will be shown as the destroyer of a nation. The middle class that is slowly being robbed of its hope will eventually say enough and revolt. It was the same in the Old Kingdom of Egypt, the classical period of Greece and the Roman Republic on several occasions. It happened in Weimar Germany most recently and we all know what that led to.

By: Community-carl-... on 4/5/11 at 7:37


I agree with you. Until parents become willing to be accountable for their children's active participation in the learning process, the learning potential of our students will not be realized. In my experience, both cultural and socio-economic factors seem to be involved, but, in my opinion, reducing expectations due to cultural and socio-economic differences is not a valid excuse for sacrificing entire classrooms of students to the lowest common denominator.

By: wasaw on 4/5/11 at 9:33

Let's see, if you are assigned to a Nashville inner city school, more than half of your students will have single, uneducated mothers. Your students are competing with their brothers and sisters for their mother's time. Mom is illerate and can't give much help, if child is sixth grade or higher. And your job performance, as teacher of these kids, is based on the performance of these kids. You've lost before the school year starts. A teacher cannot make up for the dysfunctional families that are being produced these days. We continue to reward these unwed, single parent mothers with welfare, and more welfare. They have the illegitimate children so that they can get out of the dyfunctional home situation they're in. The government puts the single moms into MDHA housing, pays their utilities and gives them food stamps and free medical. As long as we encourage these young girls with freebies, the cycle will continue. We are now in the fifth or sixth generation of this epidemic.

This is why new teachers don't stay in the Nashville public system long. They leave to go to teaching positions at Williamson, Wilson, or Rutherford County, where two-parent families can be found.

By: Trumpetman on 4/6/11 at 9:02

To wasaw. I see the point to a certain extent, but please beleive that just because a child comes from a single parent home does not mean they are problem students. There are plenty in Williams, Wilson and Rutherfold who come from dual family households who are just as much as a problem as those coming from low income single parent homes. There are also plenty of people like the ones you described living in Davidson County living in the other surrounding counties as well.