Category Archives: Qualitative Interviews

41st Annual Nordic Educational Research Association Conference in Iceland: Preschool Teacher Retention

Screen Shot 2013-03-13 at 2.37.58 PMFrom March 7th to the 9th, I was at the 41st Annual Nordic Educational Research Association Conference in Iceland (click here to read about the overall conference and the keynote speakers). The 41st annual conference website is found here.

There were about 700 people, mostly Scandinavians, at this conference. In order to present at this conference, the research must be completed either in a Scandinavian country (Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, or Denmark) or the presenter must be connected to a Scandinavian institution.

Since I am a PhD student at Uppsala University, I applied and was accepted to present in 20130309_160549a symposium. A symposium is where three or four different researchers give presentations about their own research, normally with the symposium having similar talks.

My research was completed on Head Start preschool teachers and their willingness to stay or leave their employment; therefore the other people who presented with me, also discussed similar themes.

I presented a preliminary analysis on the Lead teachers in 10 Head Start preschool programs in a talk entitled “Simple Requests to Maintain High Quality Teachers- A Qualitative Study on Preschool Teacher Retention.”

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Screen Shot 2013-03-13 at 2.55.10 PMThere were two Finnish researchers who also presented within the same symposium as Screen Shot 2013-03-13 at 2.55.57 PMme: Sanna Honkimäki and Anne Martin. They are from the Finnish Institute for Educational Research at the University of Jyväskylä. Their research was entitled “Teachers moving to other jobs? Interviews of former teachers in Finland. Much to my surprise, they found very similar results as I did on why teachers would leave the teaching profession–where teachers are stressed, overworked, underpaid, and even in Finland, feel under-appreciated.

Another presenter, a PhD student named Anna-Carin BredmarScreen Shot 2013-03-13 at 3.00.03 PM, in our symposium was from the Department of Pedagogical, Curricular and Professional Studies at the University of Göteborg (Gothenburg). Her presentation was called “Teachers’ experiences of work enjoyment as an atmosphere–An empirical lifeworld phenomenological analysis.” Her talk was very interesting, as the Finns and I spoke about the negative aspects of the teaching profession, Anna-Carin Bredmar discussed the positive (enjoyment) side of teaching–aka–what motivates teachers to get up and show up for work every day.

See my other posts on Iceland by checking out Reykjavik IcelandThe Blue LagoonThe Golden CircleThe National Museum of Iceland, and Accommodations in Reykjavik (Boholt Apartments mainly).

I attended a conference called the Nordic Educational Research Association (NERA). See the Keynote Speakers or my research on Preschool Teacher Retention.


Presenting at the 39th Annual Head Start Association Conference: Preschool Teacher Turnover Rates

At the 39th Annual Head Start Association Conference I presented on some preliminary research findings on the issue of teacher retention in a presentation called Relationships Matter: Qualitative Interviews with Head Start Preschool Teachers on Turnover Rates.

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To see the actual presentation powerpoint, click Teacher Retention Research Results NHSA.

Many, in fact, most or nearly all preschools have a problem retaining qualified teachers. Many teachers leave after a short period of time, for a number of reasons. This impacts the young child’s learning, since 1) they are constantly bombarded with new teachers and new personalities and new styles of teaching and 2) they are being taught by less experienced teachers.

Teacher retention also affects the parents. In fact, I had several parents tell me that their child had between 3-8 different preschool teachers all within a school year (depending on the parent–of course these are more extreme cases, but it does happen). And parents find it difficult to form relationships with teachers and in turn may not always be the most up-to-date on their child’s learning and what they need to work on at home.

This also greatly impacts the quality of a preschool program: 1) it’s financially costly. Hiring and training new employees is not easy and takes a lot of man hours and therefore money (not to mention all of the benefits associated with that organization, like health care, which isn’t cheap). 2) New teachers typically means less quality, as they are trying to learn how that organization operates, how the children learn and what their needs are, etc. 3) Old employees become fed-up with having to do a greater share of the workload while new employees are being hired and trained (which can take a long time to find qualified teachers)–which can create a snowball effect of having promising, qualified, experienced teachers leave due to (what some term) “workplace abuse”–where they become agitated by not being fully staffed, which impacts them in multiple ways (such as their work load or trying to take vacation).

In other words, the aim of the study was to learn why Head Start teachers would leave and what changes they want to happen in order to continue working for Head Start

So I sought out what makes preschool teachers at our 10 Head Start centers stay or leave the organization. I conducted qualitative interviews using a clustered randomized designed, where I went to each preschool and interviewed one lead and one assistant preschool teacher (all of which were chosen at random from each school) leading to a total of 10 lead and 10 assistant preschool teacher interviews.

The preliminary results showed 4 themes:

Screen Shot 2013-02-03 at 7.33.03 PMIn relationships matter, the more influence an individual had with a person, the more important they were towards determining if that person would stay or leave the agency, based on their relationship with that person. So for example, if they were the lead preschool teacher, their relationship with their assistant was the most important relationship in determining if they would stay or leave the agency since they spent the most time together (40+ hours per week). Their supervisor became the next important relationship, as they would typically see their supervisor daily. If they had strong relationships with these people, they typically wanted to stay (and some even stated that the only reason they are still here is because of those relationships–despite any other issues that they may have).

Screen Shot 2013-02-03 at 7.37.09 PM Another theme on why teachers would stay or leave the agency revolved around paperwork. Preschool teachers have a lot of paperwork to do. And Head Start teachers have more paperwork than other preschool teachers because of all of the federal guidelines. Not surprisingly then, the preschool teachers were stressed about the paperwork. However, not in the way many imagine. The teachers weren’t stressed that they had to do the paperwork. In fact many of them even thought that most or all of the paperwork was necessary and important. However, the teachers stated that they lacked the time to complete the paperwork. And it was not having built-in reflection time that made them stressed about the paperwork, as the teachers either had to do all of their paperwork while the children were in the classroom, while the children napped (which was often confounded by at least one child not sleeping and therefore needing attention, or they had to bring the paperwork home in order to complete it, which wasn’t ideal for their work or home life). Teachers suggested having a half an hour to an hour either before school or after school each day that was built in for paperwork, where children were not allowed to be there (i.e. starting school at 8am, but having teachers start work at 7:30) or to have half or all day Friday to complete their paperwork). In fact, those who had part-day classrooms had Fridays to complete their paperwork, and those in part-day classrooms were much more likely to be satisfied with the paperwork aspect and therefore stay with the company, while those in full-day classrooms never had a break to do their paperwork and were more likely to leave due to not having time to complete their paperwork.

Teachers working with children in a Head Start program are often aware of child behavior problems. There has been a lot of research to support the idea that young children have behavior problems but that those from poor/impoverished families have about three times more behavior problems than the middle-of-the-road preschool does. Teachers often complained about the severity of the behaviors, alluding to acceptable behavior problems and other problems that should be beyond the reach of any preschool teacher who is trying to teach 19 other children with only one other supporting teacher. Therefore, many teachers suggested that not every child be allowed into the program, as they simply couldn’t serve everyone’s particular needs and that some children might be better served in classrooms or schools that deal with severe behavioral problems.

Lastly, teachers required support. The teachers who stated they either received or did not need support said they would like to stay with the agency while those who needed support, requested support, but didn’t feel they had received support were more likely to state that they would leave the agency.

In addition to these four themes, all of the teachers discussed if they viewed their position as a job or a profession. As it turns out, preschool teachers in the Head Start program very much see their position as a career, albeit with some hurdles to overcome. However, they want to stay in early childcare, especially with disadvantaged children, like those in Head Start, for their whole career.

This means that if teachers leave, it’s because their needs aren’t being met, not because they didn’t want to be in this particular field. Therefore each agency should look at what needs the teachers require and then try to satisfy those needs in order to retain valuable qualified competent preschool teachers.

In this case, making sure they are paired up with leads/assistants that they communicate and get along with well, provide teachers time to complete their paperwork, reconsidering child behavior problems, and providing enough support to teachers who request it, taking their requests seriously and providing valuable, applicable feedback to their issues.

Head Start Preschool Teachers: Jobs or Professions

Head Start Preschool Teachers: Jobs vs. Professions

Head Start preschool teachers defined a profession as a place where you go to earn money, but that you enjoy what you are doing, while defining a job as just a place to go where you earn money.

When asked if Head Start preschool teachers saw their positions as a job or a profession, many of the teachers, both lead and assistant, stated that they viewed their position as a profession.

Some preschool teachers stated that they had days where they viewed their position as a job and other days where they viewed it as a profession. In other words, keeping preschool teachers happy by supporting them, asking about their needs, and trying to fulfill those needs should help to retain preschool teachers.

Preliminary Analysis: Preschool Teachers Need Support


Head Start preschool teachers felt like they lack administrative support. Namely, they lack support from their immediate supervisor, the Center Director. Nearly all preschool teachers interviewed from the ten centers stated that they could use more support from their Center Directors. Many preschool teachers stated that they had only seen their Center Director in passing, the Center Director stopping by for a quick ‘hello’, and some stated that they had never spoken with their Center Director.

When preschool teachers did see the Center Director for any length of time, most of the preschool teachers stated this was because the Center Director had come into their classroom to conduct an observational assessment. Preschool teachers would like their Center Director to mentor/coach/advise them on a routine basis, as opposed to simply monitoring/observing them and then leaving the classroom. Most of the Classroom Assistants stated if the Center Director did talk to a teacher, they spoke with only the Lead Teacher, the Family Child Educator, and neglected speaking with the Classroom Assistant.

Preschool teachers emphasized that they didn’t receive quality support from people from administration. Preschool teachers stated that the education specialists visited their rooms the most, followed by the resource specialists (special needs team). However, they stated that the education specialist either just observed or they reviewed the classroom set-up and portfolios and then spoke with the teachers about those issues. All of the preschool teachers stated that they had not received any feedback regarding their curriculum/lesson plan and how it pertains to the Reggio-Emilia philosophy that was employed at the beginning of the school year. Preschool teachers stated that they are basing their lesson plans off of their one week of training or other trainings that they have received from non-Head Start staff. Most of the preschool teachers stated that they had no idea how to exactly implement Reggio, since no one, including education specialists and Center Directors had informed them beyond the 1 week of training prior to the school year starting. Many of the preschool teachers also stated that the resource specialists only monitored if children with individualized education plans (IEPs) had their goals on the Lesson Plans. They also stated that the resource specialists mainly only asked them if they needed any support. Most of the preschool teachers stated that although the resource specialists were friendly and offered help, they didn’t fully know if they were executing the IEPs correctly. Preschool teachers further emphasized that they did not receive enough behavioral management support.

Preschool teachers stated that if they felt close to their Center Director and felt supported by other administrative departments, they would be more likely to stay working for the company. However, at present, teachers are saying that they are not supported to the extent that they would like to be.

Preliminary Analysis: Child Behavior

Child Behavior

Head Start preschool teachers deal with multiple behavior problems in nearly every classroom. This is attributed to being from low-income households where parents may not know how to discipline their children. Subsequently, at least one child misbehaves in most classrooms (to varying degrees), and some classrooms are dealing with multiple behavior problems. The preschool teachers have stated that it has been very difficult to have someone help them work through the behavioral issues.

Many of the teachers stated they filled out behavior incident forms and turned them into their Center Director, but in most cases, no one from Mental Health has come into their classroom to assist with the behavior problems. Teachers then fell into two camps—either blaming the Center Directors or blaming the Mental Health staff for not supporting them to a greater extent.

Although many of the preschool teachers understood that they would have children with behavior problems, they stated that the lack of support they receive would be a reason for leaving working for the agency.

Preliminary Analysis: Stress


Head Start preschool teachers are stressed. They feel overworked. Their overworking though doesn’t stem from the preschool children. Despite preschool teachers’ issues with the children (discussed in another theme), preschool teachers actually really love working with the children.

Preschool teachers are actually stressed mainly by the amount of paperwork they have to complete. Head Start preschool teachers are expected to do a lot of paperwork, including anecdotals, lesson plans, completing portfolios, USDA forms, leveling the children, taking pictures, documenting artwork, among other things. They are expected to complete all of their paperwork during work hours. The Head Start preschool teachers stated that this is difficult because theoretically they could have time to complete their paperwork during the first and last hour of school and during the hour in which the children are napping. However, the preschool teachers stated that this is impractical in reality, because at least one child is typically there during the first and last hour and at least one child may be awake during nap time, which takes time away from being able to complete paperwork.

Teachers also stated that they either didn’t fully understand why the had to complete certain paperwork or simply didn’t agree that the paperwork was beneficial. The most common piece of paperwork that teachers thought was useless were the anecdotals. They stated that there are other ways of leveling children that take up less time. They also felt slighted by having their anecdotals shredded at the end of the year.

Teachers tended to fall into one of two groups when completing paperwork: either they neglected interacting with the children and completed the paperwork while children are in the classroom or they take paperwork home to complete it. Only a very small minority of those interviewed stated that they were in a classroom where they were able to complete all of their paperwork without neglecting the children (i.e. all of their children slept during nap time each day).

The preschool teachers suggested having specific time off to plan and reflect. Teachers suggested having Fridays off, like half-day Head Starts do, having half days on Fridays, or having an hour off each day in order to complete the paperwork and lesson plans.

Preliminary Analysis: Relationships


The relationships that are most important to the teachers seem to follow Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Model, in that those people who are closer to the individual have a larger impact on the teachers.

In this case, the preschool teachers emphasized that their relationship to the other teacher in their classroom (i.e. the lead or assistant, respectively) had the biggest influence on their decision to stay or leave the company. In a few cases, the preschool teacher even emphasized that if not for the other teacher in their room, they “would have left months ago.”

The Center Directors were also noted as extremely important to the teacher, since they are the preschool teacher’s immediate supervisor and the person to whom they turn if a problem cannot be solved within their classroom. Having strong supportive relationships with the co-teacher and the Center Director are crucial when discussing issues of retaining teachers.

Distant thirds are the preschool teacher’s relationships with the other teachers at that center (i.e. co-workers), administration (i.e. Education, Special Needs, and Mental Health support) and the parents, probably in that order.