Factors Influencing Music Teacher Retention

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Factors Influencing Music Teacher Retention

Student enrollment is up in our school systems and with it the demand for teachers has grown.  In fact, teaching has become one of the largest career fields in the United States.  However, our country seems to be struggling to hold on to educators beyond their first five years after entering the career field.

A Sad Song

Music teachers have been hit hard, especially in the area of respect.  When looking at the educational reforms over the past ten years there has been a focus shift towards standardize testing, which inevitably pushes the system to pump time and money into core classes. This in turn shunts funding away from music programs and music teachers.

Music programs are being down sized and even thrown out to make room in the budget for additional work on the core areas.  The justification for taking away from programs like music is that administration is under the gun to get kids to preform.  Numbers on these exams are very public.  Schools that fall short must inform parents with written notice that their child’s school failed to meet standards.  They must also offer the option of allowing the student to enroll and be bussed to a different school at the cost of the school system.

The music teachers that we have not yet lost often are forced to teach both music and a section of core content.  Dividing the teacher’s workload amongst two subject areas does not allow the teacher to delve as deep into the area they have a passion for.  This devalues the craft that our music instructors have spent their lives developing, and can be very painful.

Hanging On To Love

Dr. Charles W. Cuslinery did his doctoral work on what influences music teachers, specifically, to stay in the field during these hard times.  This work can be seen in his paper, “Factors Influencing Music Teacher Retention: A Mixed Method Study.”   Dr. Cuslinery interviewed six music teachers in the public school system.  He found that these teaching veterans had a strong sense of altruism.  All of them had a strong love for their craft, which most of them had been working towards mastery since they first began as elementary school students. They all sighted an ability and willingness to marginalize negative factors that they encountered in the teaching context that can be a difficult thing to do.

Solutions Can Be Found

Many school districts have made efforts to help teachers find job satisfaction. Induction programs have been attributed with a higher rate of teacher retention, and better student achievements.  These programs include linking the new teacher with a veteran mentor teacher.  The mentor’s work has a wide range of practice.  Some mentors meet with the new teacher for a cup of coffee once a month; others actually visit their classrooms and help guide them in their practice.   Induction programs may include curriculum alignment within a department, or coherence of curriculum.

Often music teachers are the only one of their kind in the building and induction programs are not always as affective due to the disconnect between subject areas.  It has been found that music teachers benefit from being given the time and space to meet with and collaborate with other music teachers within the district.   Meeting with people that have the same love of music and a passion for teaching music to kids can bring a great deal of job satisfaction and pride.  Collaboration gives the opportunity to dig deeper into their work and find the respect needed to feel satisfaction.

Induction programs are helpful, but cannot alone solve our teacher retention issues.  Dr. Ingersoll believes the teacher attrition rate, which is 40-50% within their first five years of entering teaching, is connected primarily at the organizational level of our education system.  His research suggests that efforts to retain teachers will not help stop instructors from leaving until the organizational issues are addressed.  This truly makes sense.  Why continue to treat the symptoms if the cause has not been addressed?

It Only Makes Sense

A well rounded education has been and always will be, the best way to approach our children’s learning needs.  All subject areas are connected.  Music lovers often have an easier time learning math.  People who play instruments have stronger hand eye coordination.  Understanding the way music works and has evolved stretches minds.  Perhaps the best way to get students to preform on standardized tests is to give them more opportunity in the arts, and perhaps this is the area we should be pushing extra funding to.  Until our leaders figure this out, music teachers will continue to hold on to their love of music and learning for job satisfaction, or be lost to another field.


Ingersoll, R. (2001). Teacher Turnover and Teacher Shortages: An Organizational Analysis. Retrieved from http://repository.upenn.edu/gse_pubs/94

Riggs, L. (2013, October 18). Why Do Teachers Quit? Retrieved August 13, 2015, from http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2013/10/why-do-teachers-quit/280699/

Richard M. Ingersoll. (n.d.). Retrieved August 13, 2015, from https://scholar.gse.upenn.edu/rmi

Schools and Staffing Survey. (1997, April 1). Retrieved August 13, 2015, from http://nces.ed.gov/pubs97/97450


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