National teacher shortages for positions across foreign language education have worsened in an era where resources for education are even scarcer. At this time, foreign language teachers have one of the highest attrition rates in K-12 education due to factors including self-efficacy concerns and a lack of professional mentoring resources. Correspondingly, this dilemma underscores an urgent need to increase recruitment into the field of education. In this alarming landscape, the rate of teacher attrition, especially among new foreign language educators, remains particularly distressing across certain areas of the southeastern United States. As a Title VI LRC based in Atlanta, Georgia, research into the development of new approaches and tools to reverse these negative trends remains imperative.
The Current Challenges Facing Foreign Language Educators
Before finding practical and successful solutions, the present challenges facing these teachers must be examined. Dr. Pete B. Swanson, an expert in teacher retention, currently works alongside the Center for Urban Language Teaching and Research (CULTR) to study these existing challenges and find solutions through the negative trends currently facing foreign language education.
In his research paper, Teacher Efficacy and Attrition: Helping Students at Introductory Levels of Language Instruction Appears Critical, Dr. Peter B. Swanson explores a variety of research to explain the current tumultuous landscape of foreign language education:
Teachers are leaving the profession at a high rate, and research indicates that “almost a third of America’s teachers leave the field sometime during their first three years of teaching, and almost half leave after five years” (National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future 2002: 4). For those people who enter the teaching profession through an alternative route (e.g., emergency certification), the attrition rate can be as high as 60% (Darling-Hammond, Berry, and Thoreson 2001), and half of new teachers leave within five years in the United States—22% within the first two years (Johnson et al. 2004). Ingersoll (2001b) suggests that the “revolving door” of teacher attrition is the cause for the teacher shortage. Poor working conditions, lack of on-the-job training, lack of teacher support, and the shortage of teacher candidates at different teacher education institutions throughout the country are also contributing to the shortage (Holmes Group 1986; Johnson et al. 2001). Likewise, the Survey of the American Teacher 306 Hispania 93 June 2010 (Metropolitan Life Insurance Company 2001) reported that 28% of middle and high school teachers feel alienated at their schools, and that 27% sense that what they think about teaching does not count for much in the eyes of the administrators. Teacher shortages are prevalent in many different content areas, such as special education, mathematics, science, bilingual education, English as a Second Language (ESL), and foreign language (FL) (US Department of Education 2009). In particular, FL teaching positions are reported to be the most difficult to fill, well above special education, math, and science (Murphy, DeArmand, and Guin 2003). Overall, FL is an area currently facing a critical national shortage of teachers (American Association for Employment in Education 2006), and current research on the shortage of FL teachers indicates that there are at least five factors that explain the shortage: retirement, attrition, increased enrollments, legislation, and perceptions of teaching (Swanson 2008). (305-306)
CULTR’s Language Teacher Retention Project
In an innovative approach to address both the shortage of qualified language instructors and the challenges in retaining experienced instructors, CULTR has pushed for a comprehensive three phase project entitled the Language Teacher Retention Project.
Phase 1: Teacher Engagement and Retention Roundtable
Throughout the summer of 2015, CULTR implemented phase one of its Language Teacher Retention Project called the Teacher Engagement and Retention Roundtable. In phase one, Dr. Peter Swanson, and expert on teacher retention, hosted a roundtable meeting of researchers with a focus on instructor burnout and self-exiting from the profession to identify strategies for effective foreign language teacher support and retention, motivation, and coping strategies.
Phase 2: THRIVE
Upcoming in the summer of 2016, CULTR will execute phase 2 of its Language Teacher Retention Project through a teacher retention seminar entitled THRIVE. In this phase, CULTR will hold weeklong summer workshops that will establish the base of a multi-layered mentoring/enrichment program to reduce burnout and attrition in language teachers. Through a cohort of 50-75 K-12 language instructors, attendees will join intensive workshops focusing on strategies for class management, efficacy, technology integration, student engagement, and professional development. Unlike traditional summer workshops, these workshops will serve to develop communication and professional mentoring networks that will continue through the following years.
Phase 3: Online Foreign Language Education Mentoring Videoconferences
Following the previous summer workshops, CULTR will fulfill phase 3 of its Language Teacher Retention Project with the Online Foreign Language Education Mentoring Videoconferences. In this phase, content and resources will be distributed online and available to all language instructors in order to maximize dissemination of materials. Online synchronous mentoring, webinars and special interest groups will be hosted throughout the year to reach teachers who may not have access to mentoring in their geographic location. The original cohort of teachers established during the summer workshop will form a foundation group for this effort.
Please visit the following portals to examine the various phases of Language Teacher Retention Project in more detail.