Teacher Retention


At a state adult education conference, it was discussed that the state adult education profession was approximately 80% part-time and we face exceptional turn-over annually. As I thought more about this, I wondered how we can improve the retention of our staff. I invite you to read School Leaders: 6 Strategies for Retaining New Teachers. The ideas mentioned include: 

1. Create a teacher retention plan.
2. Plan the on boarding. 
3. Include social bonding when on boarding.
4.Schedule regular check-ins.
5. Provide coaching. 
6. Bring new teachers together.

What would you add to this list? How do you retain your teaching staff? 

I'm looking forward to hearing from you. 

Kathy Tracey


Hello Kathy,

Thanks for posting this. Our adult basic skills field, across the country, employs 80-85% part-time instructors in WIOA- Title II funded programs and schools. We don't have national data for other programs and, for most states I believe, no state-level data for programs funded with other public or private sources.  I would add the following as ways to significantly improve teacher retention:

  • Increase the number of full-time benefited teaching positions. From my experience, retention for full-time teachers is much better than for part-time teachers.
  • Pay adult education teachers salaries comparable to K-12 teachers. From my experience, excellent teachers leave adult basic skills programs to work in K-12 because they cannot afford to support families with the salaries that many of our programs are able to pay.
  • Create adult basic skills career ladders so that an entry-level teacher might see how to become a lead or master teacher, and perhaps to be a teacher trainer or program or state adult ed administrator.

What would others here add?  Which of these points that Kathy and I have made resonate with your own experience?

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS  CoP Program Management group


Hello Kathy, David and all, I agree 100% with what has been highlighted as ways to retain teachers. In my experience, adult education is a pipeline to landing jobs in K12, for exactly the reasons David has outlined. In my view, it would be especially valuable to support more full time teaching positions (with benefits!) in our work. As David notes, I, too, have observed that full time teachers tend to stay in adult literacy education. I wonder if there are any studies that can back this up. We need to pay teachers equitably and create career paths for teachers who want to move into other positions, e.g.,  professional development specialists or administrators. 

Making these changes requires advocacy and more financial resources.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, ELA and Teaching & Learning CoPs

Hi Susan, and others

As you might guess, there are very few studies of teacher retention in adult basic skills education. One that specifically addresses your question is by Young, Fleischman, Fitzgerald, and Morgan (1995) . They found more frequent turnover of part-time than full-time ABE teachers: that 80% of full-time, but only half of part-time teachers had taught in ABE for more than three years.*

*Young, M. B., Fleischman, H., Fitzgerald, N., & Morgan, M. A. (1995). National evaluation of adult education programs (Executive Summary, Contract No. LC 90065001). Arlington, VA: Development Associates. (Note, this is referenced in a 2015 doctoral dissertation by Kay Combs , "The Factors Affecting the Retention of Adult Basic Education Teachers in Kentucky" that may also be of interest.

Two other studies, described by Smith, Hofer, Gillespie, Solomon, and Rowe, in NCSALL Report 25, "How Teachers Change: A Study of Professional Development in Adult Education" are by Boggs and Travius, 1982; and Sabatini, et. al. in 2000. Smith et. al. write,  "Turnover of adult education teachers may exacerbate the challenge of professional development, with new teachers coming into the field regularly. The exact rate of turnover, however, is not well documented. Darkenwald (1986) reports on one study of retention (Boggs and Travis, 1982) of 145 adult education teachers; after 7 years, 45 (31%) of 145 remained, most having left for full-time K–12 jobs or having left education entirely. The Sabatini et al. (2000) survey of 423 adult education teachers15 indicated that about 40% had taught in the field less than five years, from a sample that consisted of almost 60% full-time teachers; in their sample, 43% of part-time teachers (which constitute the bulk of the national population of adult education teachers16) had been in the field less than five years."

David J. Rosen


Kathy et al, I don't think that there is a shred of doubt, at least in my opinion and experience, that full-time jobs encourage teacher retention. There are other incentives, aside from pay and benefits, that would encourage more retention, but certainly full-time employment comes at the top. 

There are many good practices applying to volunteer management among teachers, which increase volunteer retention in AE. However, for those who need gainful employment, part-time work provides only some relief, and when full-time jobs become available, people are forced to jump at the chance even if the work is not otherwise rewarding. In other words, funding is key.

I know that some states/areas fund only regional AE programs that are centered in more urban areas because staff retention is higher in those areas, and those programs show more numbers for bucks spent. Among those programs, full-time instructors can afford to spend time in PD and other program activities! That's great for well-funded programs and sad for those that are not  since many struggling programs can no longer function due to competition with urban centers.

I don't think that there is an easy or even a promising solution to this reality. Poor rural programs simply don't have the means to retain staff, especially if staff is required to meet umpteen reporting and implementation standards that simply don't address their realities and limitations. 

Otherwise, for well-funded programs, retaining staff should not be a great challenge. You and others have listed practices that definitely lead to retention, all of which lead to community building. We simply don't list community building enough among teacher and students! In my opinion, it is key! 

All to say that if FT teachers are paid to participate in PD and community-building activities that don't interfere with 2-3 other jobs, transportation issues, family, and other personal demands, great! That's the ticket! Leecy


I invite you to read the AIR study in teacher diversity  As we look toward retention of both educators and students, do you believe a diverse workforce plays a role? If so, how do we get there? AIR’ provides an excel worksheet to help state, district, and school leaders identify the challenges in a diverse workforce. I'd love to hear your thoughts. 

Kathy Tracey