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Native Pathways to Education
Alaska Native Cultural Resources
Indigenous Knowledge Systems
Indigenous Education Worldwide



George Letchworth
University of Oklahoma

* Editor's Note: The information contained in the article above is intended to be helpful to those individuals responsible for recruiting and retaining teachers in Indian schools, especially in view of the changing supply and demand situation regarding teacher availability.

The absence of studies dealing with teacher selection and retention might be attributed to the vagueness of the educational "product" or the lack of a criterion that might be employed when evaluating the ability to teach. In industry and business, the goal of a profit is apparent and can be measured. Due wants employees who are "productive" in terms of how much they contribute to the "profit." In an educational setting, what does one use as a measure of productivity: the number of students taught, amount taught, what s taught, how many continue their education, etc? Another extremely important factor is that in the past we have been faced with a "teacher shortage" and the selection procedure essentially consisted of recruiting anyone who was willing to teach and who should at least be provisionally certified. Business, on the other hand, typically has had a "surplus" work force and has been able to select their employees.

A selection procedure in a time of teacher shortage is difficult to establish, but the complexion of the market place has changed and we are beginning to 'ace a teacher surplus. It is an understatement to assert that with the prevailing nd future teacher market, school systems should be developing selection procedures that will allow them to recruit and retain the best teachers.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs is one of the nation's largest employers of teachers. Since many of its schools are located in quite remote areas, it faces a substantial teacher retention and recruitment problem. The BIA is charged with the responsibility of providing an education to those Indian children not attending a public, private or mission school. In order to gain a perspective of he educational task of the BIA one should know that 142,630 Indian students ages 6-18 years, were enrolled in school (Statistics Concerning Indian education, 1968). This represents 57.4 percent of the Indian children of school age. Of the 142,630 students, 61.3 percent attended public schools, 6 percent attended private schools and mission schools, and the remaining 32.7 percent attended Federal schools.

In 1968, the BIA operated 226 schools with a total enrollment of 51,596 and 18 dormitories for 4,204 Indian children who attended public schools. The BIA employs about 2,400 professional teachers and 450 administrative and supervisory educational personnel. There are agency schools throughout the country. School enrollments range from 2,100 at Intermountain School in Utah to ten at the Birney Day School in Montana.

In order to maintain an adequate staff, the Bureau estimates that it has to make 1,000 offers to prospective teachers in order to fill the approximately 600 elementary and secondary teaching positions that become available each year. The current recruitment quota of 600 is necessary to maintain a full compliment of 2,400 teachers. The Bureau's studies of teacher turnover rather consistently indicate an annual turnover rate of 23-25 percent. A large proportion of the annual turnover rate may be attributed to the loss of approximately 41 percent of the first year teachers.

The problem of teacher mobility is particularly important to the BIA schools whose local conditions require considerable in-service training of new personnel. In nearly every school, public, Federal or private, however, it is necessary to provide the new teacher with some formal introduction to the local operation. Thus, for the BIA, and for public school districts as well, the problems of recruiting new teachers and of preparing them to work in the local schools represent a major investment. Perhaps more important, the continuity engendered by teacher turnover may have a major impact upon the academic progress of students. The success of an educational program is to a large degree contingent upon the competency of the professional staff.

An excessively high rate of turnover among the staff usually decreases the efficiency and weakens the cohesion of the organization, thus, affecting the achievement of the student and the morale of the staff.

Purpose: The cost of training new teachers in the BIA schools is very expensive both from an administrative and an educational point of view. The concern of the BIA over the poor retention of first-year teachers stimulated the present study. The project was funded by the US Office of Education on July 1, 1969. The explicit purpose of the project was to study teacher separation among the first-year 1969-70 Bureau of Indian Affairs teaching personnel.

Problem: The problem of the study might be stated as follows: What are the factors contributing to teacher resignations during or following one year of service; or conversely, what are the factors contributing to a newly appointed teacher remaining for a second year of service?

In an attempt to clarify some of the terminology used in the study, the following terms and their definitions will be used (NEA Research Bulletin, 1968):

Teacher turnover: Turnover is a very general term and it may refer to a variety of things, such as: movement of teachers in and out of teaching, teachers quitting their jobs, moving from one school to another and entering the profession for the first time or after an interruption.

Teacher separation: Separation refers to a teacher leaving a specific school regardless of the cause.

Teacher mobility: Mobility refers to teachers who are geographically mobile but continue to be educators.

Teacher loss: This refers to teachers who leave the teaching profession.

This project was designed to be exploratory in nature, therefore, no specific hypotheses were made. The research literature was consulted, however, in order to provide direction to the research and an explanatory framework for the results.

Proposed Objectives: In the original proposal, the objectives of the present study were set forth as follows:

The activities in the proposed project should achieve three objectives:

1 - It will develop a data base on teachers within the BIA schools and teachers within a group of public schools. It will provide a demographic description of teacher backgrounds, job expectations, concepts of students, and patterns of occupational mobility.

2 - It will explore differences between teachers who will return for a second year in the district and those who will leave after short service.

3 - Bases for comparing the BIA schools with public schools will be developed. The purpose of the comparisons, which must be reflected in the design, will be to improve the quality of the BIA schools and to enhance the probability of a young teacher finding a career within the service.

The relationship of each factor in the study to patterns of teacher retention will be described. It will delineate the aspirations of the new teacher in terms of his career expectations. It will describe practices and programs which encourage the young professional to remain in teaching. It will also describe situations which discourage him and lead him to seek employment elsewhere.

The objectives were stated rather broadly since the study was exploratory in nature.

National and State Statistics on Teacher Separation and Retention: In order to place the teacher separation and retention problem of the BIA schools into perspective, it is necessary to report some national and state statistics. Nationally only 3 out of 4 people prepared to teach actually enter the classroom. (December 1968 NEA Research Bulletin). Out of every 100 elementary and secondary teachers that are presently teaching, it is estimated that 6 will move outside of the profession in the next year. At least 9 others will remain in the profession but will make a move to another school system within their present state or in another state. Based upon the 1967 USOE projection that 1,892,000 full time public school teachers were employed in the Fall of 1968, it can be estimated that 110,000 of these teachers will leave the profession during the next year and 185,000 of these teachers will move to a different school. The preceding figures indicate that nationally around 15 percent of the nation's population of public school teachers either moves out of the profession or to a different job each year. The December 1968 NEA Research bulletin also reported a survey which attempted to determine some of the differences that existed between those teachers who had been employed in 1965-66 and continued to teach at the same school during 1966-67 and those who were no longer at the same school for a second year of service (old timers) 63 percent had 5 years or more of teaching experiences. Of the teachers who left (short timers) after teaching 1965-66 and either moved to another school or out of the profession 58 percent had less than 5 years of teaching experience and of the short timers 46 percent were 25.34 years old. Thus, in terms of the NEA survey it appears that the younger teachers with less experience are more mobile.

A greater understanding of teacher termination and retention may be obtained by considering several studies that have been conducted at the state level. Pederson (1970) found that from 1965-66 to 1966-67, only 80 percent of Michigan's public school teachers were retained. Four percent of the mobile teachers migrated to other public school districts, but the other 16 percent dropped out of the teacher profession. Pederson found that age was highly related to teacher mobility, in that the younger faculty were more mobile. Sex was also a very important variable in predicting turnover with young females accounting for a great deal of the turnover. Other factors that were related to teacher turnover were:

1 - Level of degree: The acquisition of a graduate degree resulted in higher retention rates for the majority of females and older males, but it appeared to accelerate an exodus from the profession by younger teachers generally and the middle-aged man.

2 - Institutional training: School systems that employed large numbers of teachers from the higher status Michigan universities and colleges experienced high retention rates.

3 - Training: School systems which had a large number of personnel with minimal levels of educational preparation and a higher rate of turnover.

4 - School location and size. School systems in urban areas experience greater teacher retention.

A study conducted in Oklahoma by the Oklahoma Public School Research Council (1970) focused on "Mobility in the Education Profession". Several aspects of the OPSRC study were coordinated with the present BIA study. In general, the study found that the younger females were the poorest risks for long-term employment.

Whitener (1965) studied teacher survival in the St. Louis area and found that by the end of the fifth year of teaching 80 percent of the entering teachers were gone. She made the point that the attrition rate was heavily influenced by the personal attributes of age and sex and that an administrator could reduce teacher turnover simply by hiring older teachers, especially avoiding young female teachers.

A recent study of teacher turnover was conducted in Oregon by W.W. Charters (1970) and offers in addition to some interesting results a lucid approach and interpretation of factors affecting teacher survival. Some of Charters' more pertinent conclusions are:

1- Males have a longer survival rate than females (4 out of 10 males remained in one district 5 years or more with only 3 out of 10 females remaining in the same district).

2 - Age at time of employment is strongly related to the female survival rate but only weakly to the male survival rate.

3 - School district size is directly related to survival of males but indirectly related to survival of females.

4 - Neither teaching level or amount of experience (with age, sex held constant) was related to survival rate.

5 - They found what they termed a "survival effect" which occurs sometime during the 5th year. It is proposed that teachers develop an "Investment" in their district over a period of time and this is a very important time in determining the survival rate.

It is interesting to note that after four years of teaching, only 40 percent of the males and 30 percent of the females remained for a fifth year. In fact, after the first year of teaching only 80 percent of the men and 65 percent of the women remained for a second year of teaching. The Oregon data only confirms the trend in the other national and state data reported which suggests a teacher turnover of around 15-25 percent.

Comparing the statistics regarding teacher turnover at the national and state level to the teacher turnover in the BIA schools is quite interesting and places the problem into perspective. The data overwhelmingly suggests that teacher turnover is around 25 percent annually for first year teachers and that this can be heavily influenced by the personal characteristics of the faculty. For instance, if a great many young single females are on the faculty then there will be a high rate of turnover. Therefore, the BIA schools overall turnover of 23-25 percent and 41 percent for first year teachers should not be surprising because of the composition of the population from which they are recruiting.


The present investigation was an exploratory study whose purpose was to isolate some of the factors related to the separation and retention of first year teachers in the BIA schools. The general methodology employed involved interviewing and administering questionnaires to groups of first year teachers before they began teaching and reinterviewing and readministering the questionnaires during the latter part of the school year. The pretest and posttest data along with some demographic data were used in comparing those teachers who resigned during the first year or at the end of the first year with those who remained for a second year.

Comparison Groups: The samples for the study were obtained from two areas:

1 - The BIA schools serving the Navajo Indians in northern Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado (Gallup area).

2 - The BIA schools serving the Sioux Indians in North and South Dakota (Aberdeen Area).

In the 1969-70 school year, the BIA hired 295 new teachers for the Gallup area and 36 new teachers for the Aberdeen area. Seventy-eight new teachers were selected for study from the Gallup area and 49 new teachers from the Aberdeen area were selected for study. In the Gallup area 74 additional first year teachers were given the pre-questionnaire even though they were not in the sample interviewed. The Aberdeen area sample represents almost all the first year teachers that attended the pre-service week at Wahpeton, North Dakota, during August 1969. The Gallup area sample was randomly chosen from the list of registrants that attended the pre-service week at Ft. Wingate in August 1969. (See Figure 1 for the geographic areas represented by Gallup and Aberdeen).

These two groups (Gallup, Aberdeen) were each divided into two sub-comparison groups one of which was teachers who resigned during or after one year of teaching and the other, those who remained for a second year. So, for the purpose of analysis, the following comparison groups were used: Gallup—Comparison Group 1, those who remained for a second year; Comparison Group 4, who resigned during or after one year of teaching.

Data Collection Instruments: The major instruments utilized in the collection of data on the first year teachers were a "framed" interview and a questionnaire. Secondary sources of data on the first year teachers were: personnel records, supervisors ratings, and telephone interviews. A written and pictoral description was also made of all the BIA schools and communities visited by the research assistants.

The pre-interview was designed to elicit information on the following topics: 1- expectations of position, 2-expectations of student relationships, 3-expectations of teacher- supervisor relationships, 4-expectations of community setting, 5-professional expectations, 6- professional activites, 7-quality of training. The post-interview covered the same topics but was reworded slightly (See Appendix B).

The pre and post questionnaires contained 88 items dealing with the major topics of: role of the classroom teacher, perception of teaching, supervisory staff, working conditions, social and cultural conditions near the school, professional training as a teacher, recruitment of that person, and orientation to the BIA schools. (See Appendix C). Each of the 87 items was responded to in terms of "what exists" and "what should exist". The discrepancy between " what exists" and "what should exist" on each of the items served as a measure of the potential dissonance for the individual.

The personnel records came from a variety of sources and provided information such as: type of school attended, age, and position with the BIA. The opinion of some of the first- year teachers' supervisors was obtained during the latter part of the school year on a one page supervisor's rating form (See Appendix E for the telephone interview form).

Procedure: Work on the Teacher Mobility and Retention Study began in July 1969. The initial data gathering activities were conducted during August 1969. Interview teams were sent to Wahpeton, North Dakota, and Gallup, New Mexico, to interview a sample of teachers preparing to teach for the first time for the BIA. During the one-week orientations, the two samples (Aberdeen and Gallup) were interviewed (See Appendix A) and given a teacher questionnaire referred to as the "Teacher Mobility and Retention Questionnaire" (See Appendix C).

During December 1969, a second questionnaire identical to the one administered in August was sent to the North Dakota and New Mexico samples. The return on the questionnaire was fair, but we were unable to locate some of the teachers because they had been transferred, resigned, or chose not to return the questionnaire.

The second major data collection took place March 21-27, 1970. Two interview teams were sent out—one to the Gallup area and another to the Aberdeen area. Letters were sent to the teachers in the two samples prior to the interview teams' arrival; however, this did not preclude our being unable to interview many of the teachers in our original August sample. The available teachers in the samples were re-interviewed and filled out the " Teacher Mobility and Retention Questionnaire". During this time, each teacher's supervisor was given a supervisor's rating sheet and asked to evaluate the teacher (Appendix D).

The research staff received from the Gallup and Aberdeen offices a list of the first year teachers who terminated their appointments with the BIA during the 1969-70 School Year. The individuals on these lists served as the criterion comparison group against which comparisons were made to those first year teachers who remained with the BIA for a second year of employment.

Many of the individuals who resigned were contacted during October 1970 and briefly interviewed over the telephone as to their final reasons for terminating employment with the BIA. The two major criterion groups of first year teachers that was established (those who resigned from the BIA during their first year—and those who remained for a second year of service) served as the basis for most of the analyses.

Findings: The project on which this paper is based terminated January 1, 1971. The data for the study was collected during the school year of 1969-70; however, additional follow-up information was obtained during the summer and fall of 1970.

This section includes both descriptive and comparative analyses. The analyses appear in the following order:

I. Recruitment Procedures
II. Description of all first-year BIA teachers (nationally)
III. Description of the teachers in the two areas selected for study (Gallup and Aberdeen)

A. Personal Data

1. GS Rating
2. Type of Position
3. Type of teacher preparation

IV. Description of the work environments of the two areas selected for study
V. Comparisons of the two criterion groups on the basis of the questionnaires.
VI. Comparisons of the two criterion groups on the basis of the interviews.
VII. Supervisor's ratings
VIII. Telephone interviews

Recruitment Procedures: The initial link in the sequence of events that may and in employee separation is recruitment. A well trained personnel specialist an recruit a group of employees that would be dissatisfied, perform poorly on the job, and would eventually terminate or be terminated. Thus, the recruitment of BIA teachers is the first initial step in maintaining a quality teaching staff.

The literature review for the report suggests that the poorest retention risk might conform to the following composite: a young single woman with a bachelor's degree, minimal training for the position, no previous experience, who is placed in a small rather isolated school. The question may not be raised regarding the kind of teacher population from which the BIA recruits.

In order to maintain a professional staff of 2400, the BIA must recruit approximately 600 new professional employees each year. Of the 600 positions available approximately 60 percent are for elementary teachers, 15 percent for Guidance Counselors, 15 percent for Secondary Teachers, and ten percent for Training Instructors (Kindergarten). The greatest number of individuals recruited will be working in Grades K-8, approximately 75-85 percent, since many of the Guidance Counselors work with children K-8. It is obvious that with an overall teacher turnover of approximately 25 percent every year and a turnover of 41 percent in the first-year teachers that the entire teaching staff could presumably be replaced every four years.

The internal (hypotheses, values, etc.), and external (transcripts, application forms, letters of recommendation, etc.), criteria used in selecting BIA teachers have never been submitted to a formal validation and this appears to be a severe shortcoming. This topic will be discussed in more depth in the recommendation section of this report.

A second important point to make regarding the recruitment process is that the Interagency Board and the Teacher Recruitment Unit may be recruiting from different populations of teachers. The Interagency Board uses the Civil Service announcement as it's vehicle for contacting the public and consequently it probably is responded to by many experienced teachers as well as new college graduates. The Teacher Recruitment Unit, on the other hand, relies almost exclusively upon campus interviews as its main means of recruiting and therefore contacts mostly new college graduates. In considering the recruitment process and the high rate of turnover among first-year teachers one must bear in mind the original population from which the new BIA teachers are chosen. Since 75-85 percent of the new first-year teachers will work at the elementary level that usually means recruiting females. Recruiting females from a population of new college graduates means that most of them are either single or just newly married. Both of these social roles tend to be conducive to teacher turnover.

The BIA schools overall teacher turnover of 23-25 percent and 36-41 percent for first-year teachers should not be surprising because it appears that they are recruiting from a high risk population. Thus, one way of improving morale and preventing poor performance or separation is to recruit from a population that has characteristics that are compatible with the work setting.

Description of the National Population: In the School Year 1969-70, the BIA hired a total of approximately 5 1 new teachers and 183 of these resigned during or after one year of service. Table 1 provides a summary of those who resigned and those who remained for a second year of service. Thirty-six percent of the first year teachers resigned and this is slightly less than the 40-41 percent teacher separation that the BIA has experienced in the past. The Aberdeen and Gallup areas were the focus of concern for the present study and the percentage of teachers resigning from these two areas (Gallup 35 percent and Aberdeen 33 percent) does not differ greatly from the national percentage of 36 percent.

The percentage of resignations by area of assignment and sex of the teacher is displayed in Table 2. Of the 510 teachers hired by the BIA in 1969-70 there were 210 males and 300 females, this represents 41 percent (male) and 59 percent (female) of the total sample. During or after the first year of teaching 68 (32 percent) of the mean resigned and 142 (68 percent) remained for a second year of service. A Z test for proportions was performed comparing male and female teachers on the basis of whether they resigned or remained for a second year of service. The Z test was not significant (p > .05) but did approach significance at the p > .10 level. The trend toward more women resigning than men is consistent with the findings of other studies (Pederson 1970; Charters, 1970).


Remaining for a Second Year
Resigned during or after one year
Total Number Hired
Per Cent
Per Cent
Aberdeen (North and South Dakota)
Gallup (New Mexico and Arizona)
Juneau (Alaska)
Other Areas

Description of the first-year teachers in the Gallup and Aberdeen Areas. In the Gallup area 295 new teachers were hired for the School Year 1969-70 (See Table 2). One hundred and thirteen of the teachers were males and 182 were females, representing 38 percent and 62 percent of the sample respectively. A comparison of the males and females on the basis of those resigning during or after one year of service and those remaining for a second year indicates that 30 percent of the males resigned and 38 percent of the females resigned. A Z test for proportions comparing the males and females on the basis of resignations was not significant (p > .05) but did approach significant (p > .10). The trend toward more females resigning is consistent with the trend in the national sample and with previous research.

The Aberdeen Area hired 66 new teachers for the 1969-70 School Year. The distribution of male and female teachers was about the same as in the Gallup area, 36 percent males and 64 percent females. During or after one year of service 37 percent of the male teachers and 36 percent of the female teachers resigned. A Z test for proportion of male and female teachers resigning in the Aberdeen area was not significant.

The percentage of female teachers in the Gallup sample (62 percent) and the Aberdeen sample (64 percent) is greater than the percentage of female teachers in the national group (59 percent). The slightly larger percentage of female teachers in the Gallup and Aberdeen areas has implications for the rate of teacher separation, since research indicates that young female teachers compose a high risk group.

Table 2

An examination of the contingency tables for the national sample and the Gallup-Aberdeen samples reveals the basis for the results. In Table 3 it can be en that in the Gallup-Aberdeen sample the percent of those from private universities (52 percent) and state colleges (81 percent) remaining for a second and deviates considerably from those trained at other institutions. (The reader would be careful in relying too heavily on the percentages since they are based i small frequencies.) It should be noted that the retention rate for those graduating from state colleges tends to be slightly higher than the retention than for those graduating from other types of institutions (See Table 3).

Table 3

  Private College Private University State College Minor Univ. Major Univ.
National Sample 65% 66% 74% 72% 67%
Gallup-Aberdeen Sample 69% 52% 81% 65% 62%

Description of the Work Environment: In order to more fully understand acher separation and retention in the BIA schools, it is necessary to have a knowledge of many of the environmental factors that influence the first year teacher. In both the Gallup and Aberdeen areas, the terrain tends to be flat and rather stark. There are few moderate sized cities (50,000 population) and many the BIA schools are located many miles from even a moderately sized )community (10,000). The following are some randomly chosen research assistants descriptions of BIA schools in the Gallup and Aberdeen Areas.

ABERDEEN AREA: School One (Description): Isolated school with new buildings—did not seem as large as most schools.

The descriptions of the preceding schools are generally representative of ithe schools in the Gallup and Aberdeen areas. The description of the physical ecology is especially important when it is viewed in light of the type of new teacher recruited. The majority of the first year teachers are young males and ;males and most of them are recent college graduates. The social roles, values, lifestyles, etc., of the young people generally are not compatible with the physical ecology of most BIA schools. The incompatibility that exists between individuals and the environment might be typified by the desire of the young women to meet a young man and marry when there are very few men available in the vicinity.


The problem of first-year teacher separation in the BIA schools should be placed in perspective before we consider the results of the present study. The literature review indicated that in most public schools the separation rate for first-year teachers is 15 to 25 percent. Charters (1967) explained the problem of first-year teacher separation in terms of the career patterns of male and female teachers and attributes the high rate of separation to our cultural patterns. Using Charters' reasoning, it seems that we should expect a "base rate" of teacher separation among first year teachers (especially young teachers just out of college), unless we modify our cultural patterns, recruit first-year teachers from an older population or make drastic changes in the marketplace.

The present study assumes that the factors underlying teacher separation can be placed into two major categories: those associated with career patterns in our culture, and those factors that are associated with the individual and the teaching position. Since the BIA recruits from the population of new college graduates, then a base separation rate of around 25 percent may be expected. In order to reduce the amount of teacher separation due to cultural career patterns, another population would have to be used as a recruitment source. The BIA experienced a teacher separation rate of 36 percent during the School Year 1969- 70 so it seems that approximately ten percent of the teacher separation problem in the BIA schools may be due to the individuals recruited and the factors associated with teaching in a BIA school. The discussion that follows deals with the factors associated with the cultural career patterns (the 25 percent of teacher separation) but there is an emphasis on those factors dealing with the individuals and their teaching positions that add an additional ten percent to the teacher separation rate.

The results of this study might be succinctly summarized by stating that the teachers who remained for a second year of service did differ from the teachers who resigned on a number of factors but that an equally important finding was that both groups often became dissatisfied with the passing of the school year. Thus, it is profitable to examine not only the personal qualities of the teachers who resigned but to also examine the work setting, community climate, supervisory relations, etc., in order to improve overall teacher retention and morale.

The following statements provide a brief overview of the findings of the present study.

1 - There is a tendency for individuals from near-by states to remain for a second year.

2 - More females are recruited than males.

3 - More females resign after the first year than males.

4 - The graduates of state colleges tend to be somewhat better risks foi retention.

5 - There is a modest relationship between GS rating and retention.

6 - The remoteness of the work setting is an important factor in retaining teachers especially young single teachers.

7 - The teacher's perception of teaching in general influences their satisfaction and retention.

8 - The teacher's perception of the supervisory staff is related to satisfaction and retention.

9 - The teacher's perception of their professional training is related to retention. Many of those who resigned felt they were inadequately prepared for their initial assignment. They felt that they were given too much initial responsibility, they had many communication problems because of the language and that they often were given a grade level for which they were not prepared.

10 - The teachers tend to become dissatisfied with the recruitment process as the year progresses.

11 - The teachers feel that the orientation should be longer and more extensive.

12 - Both the remained and resigned groups increase in their awareness of the many aspects of the teaching position as the school year progressed.

13 - The remained group became more aware of the additional duties, managerial duties, student relationships, student responsiveness, and teacher-parent relationships than did the resigned group.

14 - Supervisors did not rate the remained group differently than the resigned group.

15 - Teachers who resigned were dissatisfied with the lack of structure (indefiniteness of initial assignment, adequate supervision, adequate orientation, etc.).

16 - Teachers who resigned commented on the lack of toys, texts, and curriculum materials.

Some general observations can be made about the factors leading to teacher separation. These observations are a result of not only the data collected but many informal conversations with BIA teachers.

Recruitment: A number of teachers felt that once they had been contacted by a BIA recruiter that they should have received regular feedback on their status in regard to the position. Teachers commented that several months sometimes elapsed before they received notification of their position and that in the interim they received few if any communications. Another source of concern was that many teachers did not receive notification of their position until late in the spring or summer and this allowed little time for planning. Many felt that they needed more information regarding their position, school at which they would teach, and living conditions.

Location: The problems associated with being rather isolated are also related to the communities in which the first-year teacher lives. A few BIA schools are located in or near small towns but the majority of the BIA schools are located on the reservation and consequently there is no private ownership. Many of the schools located on the reservation consist of the school facilities and the rental houses, duplexes, and apartments. In some school sites there is very little sense of "community" since no one owns property and there is an often voiced feeling of temporariness.

The degree to which a first-year teacher is made to feel part of the community varies a great deal. In some school communities, the new first-year teacher is almost "adopted" by the more established teachers and a great deal of time is spent "initiating" the new teacher. The other extreme is where a new first-year teacher arrives in the school community and there is no one to help the person "get settled" and there is very little expressed concern over the person becoming a part of the school community. Needless to say that reaction of new first-year teachers to the different welcomes is quite different.

Job related activities: The BIA work assignments and regulations concerning the assignments often lead to some confusion and dissatisfaction. Many of the new teachers fail to fully realize that they are on Government Service (GS) appointments that are 12 month appointments and express dissatisfied with having to work more than 9-10 months. A second factor associated with the job assignment is that many teachers are placed on the basis of need rather than primary training and interests. For example, an individual may be primarily prepared to teach Tenth Grade history but if a need exists and he has the qualifications he may be teaching a self-contained third grade class. Many of the teachers who were teaching a grade level for which they were not prepared expressed a great deal of frustration and dissatisfaction.

Pre-service and In-service Training: As the teachers adjust to the school community they also must adjust to a different culture. A few of the new first-year teachers are acquainted with the culture of the Indian children that hey are teaching, however, most are not. They soon discover that many of the local values, attitudes and customs are quite different from their own and that these influence not only their classrooms and school but the local community in which they live. For example, a well socialized new teacher may consider “time" a very valuable commodity to be saved or spent wisely and this value nay not be shared by the Navajo students who have been socialized to consider time as a stable force that is not transient. This obviously will give rise to conflicts in areas such as handing papers in "on time", arriving at school on time, and not wasting time in class. The new first- year teacher also has some values regarding individual competition and "cheating", so when a young Navajo is caught sharing his answers with his classmates this is considered " cheating". The strong group identity also presents problems as the teacher asks for individual students to respond to questions since none of the children want to “show off" or stand out from the group. So, the new teacher who asks questions of the students finds that although unintended they tend to be rhetoric.

Accompanying the "cultural shock" that many of the first year teachers experience is the task of learning how to teach and to play the role of teacher. he majority of the first year teachers are recent college graduates and their position with the BIA is their first teaching position. The first year of teaching s usually difficult at best but when one is trying to teach a group of children hat have a different set of values, attitudes, and behaviors then the problems re compounded. The new first year teacher is faced with the rather large task )f learning "how to teach" and learning to understand a new culture almost simultaneously.

The first-year BIA teacher is a new college graduate and has little experience working in a professional role for an organization. The new teacher is not totally unfamiliar with the organization of the public school system but the 3IA school system exists within a bureaucratic framework that is alien to many >f them. There is a general lack of understanding among the new teachers as to how the BIA school system operates and how to use it to accomplish what hey feel needs to be done. Many of the new teachers fail to think of themselves as being employed by the Federal Government and still tend to see themselves as "school teachers" and this leads to difficulties.

The point to be made by the preceding examples is that the new first-year teacher is often confronted with a quite different set of rules which govern heir behavior and their students' behavior. The teachers' reaction to the new rules vary from complete confusion to a reaction against the new culture and jobsetting. A few of the very resourceful first-year teachers are capable of making realistic adaptations.

A number of general conclusions can be drawn from the present study:

1 - If new BIA teachers are recruited from the young, single college graduate then a rather substantial turnover can be anticipated.

2 - The recent development of a teacher surplus presents many new opportunities in recruitment. The surplus of teachers provides the opportunity for sophisticated development of criteria and selection procedures and the opportunity to recruit from an older more experienced population of teachers.

3 -There are a number of factors that promote the dissatisfaction of new BIA teachers and steps should be taken to remedy these factors, such as recruitment orientation, placement, pre-service and inservice training.


1 - Align recruitment procedures to reflect the growing teacher surplus.

2 - Validate recruitment criteria and set up a systematic selection procedure.

3 - Recruit from teacher populations that are "low risk". Perhaps more older and married teachers should be recruited.

4- Contact individuals as early as possible regarding their position and furnishing them with adequate information and an individual to contact for more information.

5 - Provide more structure for the new teachers especially the reserves.

6 - Try to place the new teachers in the grade level for which they were trained.

7 - Provide more orientation, pre-service and in-service. It might be a good idea to ask the teachers what type of in-service they need after they have been teaching for two-three months.

8 - Increase the feeling of community. Design some school programs that allow the new teachers to become a part of the school community.

9 - Provide the new teacher with a successful role model, this should be a person who is a "master" teacher and who can relate to the young teacher.

10- Further develop the skillfullness of the supervisory staff so that they can relate to the new teachers and provide them with the necessary personal, social, and job related support that is required.

11 - Set up methods by which the new teachers can "communicate" with the older faculty and the administration.


Dr. Letchworth is [1973] Associate Professor of Education in the Department of Education at the University of Oklahoma. He has extensive background in Social Psychology and has been involved with community oriented drug abuse programs. Letchworth is currently the principal investigator in the National Drug Abuse Education Training Center in Norman, Oklahoma.

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Alaska Native Knowledge Network
University of Alaska Fairbanks
PO Box 756730
Fairbanks  AK 99775-6730
Phone (907) 474.1902
Fax (907) 474.1957
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Last modified March 12, 2008