Why have so many teachers either failed to return to work, resigned, or chosen not to enter the field since the pandemic? What’s made the profession become less attractive, and what can we do to change it?
Some districts in the United States have tried to incentivize becoming a teacher. Offering $1,000 signing bonuses and modifying district calendars from five-day weeks to four-day weeks, school leaders have tried to entice more candidates to work in their schools. But during a time when students are still dealing with learning loss and budgetary constraints, both of these solutions seem not to be in the best interest of the schools and students long term.
So what can schools and districts do to increase teacher retention and enhance recruitment efforts? We believe the answers are not in time and money but in appreciation and connection.
4 Tips for Administrators
1. Learn to appreciate the efforts of others. If you work in schools, your job is challenging, full stop. Rolling your sleeves up and working in the classroom is as hard as evaluating teachers and managing student interventions. The problem we face in schools is a lack of perspective. The days can become so encompassing that we forget to see the school from the eyes of the others who call it home. All administrators have been there; we were teachers once, too. The problem is that the further we get from the role, the easier it is to forget how hard the job truly is.
The number one reason people leave their jobs is that they don’t feel appreciated. Take a step back and learn to see the job through the lens of your staff. Once you have that perspective, you can appreciate how difficult everyone’s job is.
2. Eliminate toxic cultures. You can usually feel a school’s culture as soon as you walk through the main entrance. You can tell if it’s a building where teachers love to teach and where the students flourish, or if it’s a place where teachers complain that students aren’t happy. Ask yourself if there’s a feeling of community in the air or something far less welcoming.
Negativity is contagious. It spreads like wildfire. A building’s culture is often invisible, yet it can be one of the most critical components of a school’s success and a teacher’s desire to stay. What can start as the dismay of a single staff member can quickly become the culture of an entire building. For young, up-and-coming teachers, this can become a dealbreaker.
Overwhelmed by logistics and responsibilities, new teachers are often oblivious to the toxicity they’ve been enveloped by until it’s too late. They often cannot see that their change in mindset, attitude, and motivation directly results from the toxic culture in which they work. Instead, they believe teaching isn’t for them, that toxic environments are normal, and that the profession, unfortunately, is not what they thought it would be.
As educators, we must pride ourselves on pointing out the positives we see. Just as negativity is contagious, so is positivity. You may be the only one noticing great things, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Give compliments, leave a note, do something that shows you notice the great things happening around you.
3. Connect with your staff on a personal level. Humans are social beings. We are more likely to reach our full potential when we feel connected to others. When we are forced to work in isolation, we struggle with motivation, appreciation, and success. Showing staff they are cared for beyond the schoolhouse walls makes them feel valued and connected. When we feel valued, we become committed and more likely to stay where we are.
Be authentic. The more real you are with your staff, the more real your staff will be with you. You are more than just an educator. You are likely a mother or father, sister or brother, aunt or uncle, neighbor, best friend, etc. Talk about the other roles you play in your life.
Ask staff questions, and get to know them as more than just teachers and educators. Get out of your office and get involved in the day-to-day activities of your school. Gain a better understanding of what’s happening at each grade level or department, and create opportunities for effortless conversations. Bottom line: Take care of your employees personally.
4. Give teachers a voice. Besides being a good listener, leaders should empower staff and encourage them to lead. When educators realize they are being heard and have a voice in the important decisions of the school, they tend to show more attention and productivity in every task they are delegated. This starts by showing you value their voice and work. Moreover, giving every individual a say makes them more satisfied at work and puts them on positive terms with the school leaders.
Teaching is hard. If it were easy, anyone could do it. Retaining staff is an active proposition; it requires a degree of sacrifice that other tasks do not. We’re in the business of people, and people are fluid, easily influenced by positive reinforcement, and vulnerable. We require constant recalibration. It’s our job as school leaders to do the recalibrating and ensure that teachers work in optimal conditions. If we had taken care of our teachers in the spring of 2022, we likely wouldn’t have found ourselves replacing so many of them in just a matter of weeks.
Improving teacher retention can support more significant learning for students in your building and educator growth in the art of teaching. A high turnover rate makes it incredibly difficult to institute educational initiatives or change. Experienced teachers who are familiar with the needs of a school and its students are best poised to educate and prioritize student needs.
When teachers leave your building or the profession, those voices are lost, and education suffers. Reducing turnover and dependence on substitutes is an integral step toward enhancing schools and our students’ futures.