Teaching is hard. It’s a constant learning curve. It’s rewarding, frustrating, exciting, and challenging depending on the day and even the moment. Dedicated and passionate teachers can create a rich learning experience for students and unlock their potential to perform their very best. They love their work because they make a difference. But these teachers are harder to come by.
The current trend across the nation is that more teachers are leaving the classroom each year. As a result, it’s continually more challenging for districts to hire and retain the best teachers in their classrooms.
According to a recent Texas Education Agency (TEA) Annual Report, the proportion of parents who indicated that they’d like their child to become a teacher has decreased by 30 percent. For the first time, more parents answered the question with a “no” rather than “yes.” The downward trend mirrors the decrease in the number of students interested in pursuing teaching as a career.
Teachers quitting causes a drain on budgets and more importantly, it negatively impacts students. By implementing forward-thinking strategies and creating a culture where teachers matter, districts can improve retention efforts and reap the rewards of keeping the best talent in their classrooms.
This article will cover a broad set of topics related to teacher turnover, and how to create a school culture that develops and retains great teachers who improve student outcomes, including:
For teachers, reality comes at you fast
The stress and the burnout are real. Most professions support newcomers to the job with extensive training and development, gradually adding responsibility as the employee learns the ropes and becomes proficient at required tasks. Teaching, on the other hand, requires teachers with zero years of experience to have the same responsibilities as teachers with 30 years of experience, and the standards of proficiency are based on the achievement of students.
Although most teachers begin their teaching careers eager and ready to make a difference, most don’t last beyond the first year. For teachers who are willing to stay beyond the first year, many decide to exit the profession within 3 to 5 years.
Teachers are leaving because of:
- Being overwhelmed increasing responsibilities of the job
Trends across the nation show that thousands of teachers are hired with little preparation beyond college learning, and often they enter a “sink or swim” situation at their school. Facilities are not up to par, supplies are scarce, and the demands of the classroom are too much. Many teachers feel defeated before the school year even begins, which leads to reduced engagement and a sense of inadequacy in the job.
Unless school districts can change the narrative of the swinging door for the teaching profession, they will continue to experience high teacher turnover.
Why teacher turnover matters
Research shows that an effective teacher is the most important factor contributing to student achievement. Highly effective teachers have the greatest impact in schools with high numbers of students in poverty or students of color. Hiring knowledgeable and competent teachers is critical to student success, but finding individuals who can be curriculum designers, caregivers, problem-solvers, and more is even more important.
The teaching profession has never been for the faint of heart, but the current state of public education puts more challenges on teachers than ever before. More and more teachers are disillusioned by the responsibilities and tasks associated with being a classroom teacher.
Survey reports show that teachers are increasingly dissatisfied with:
- The pressures of high-stakes testing
- A lack of administrative support
- Weak compensation
- Poor working conditions
The stress of the job is causing more teachers to reconsider their commitment to education and leave the profession permanently.
Teacher turnover is costly for the district as well as for students and staff. The high price of turnover negatively impacts student achievement, disrupts the environment for remaining staff, and reduces the bottom line. Communities see the constant churn in teaching staff each year, and they begin to lose trust in the district.
The Learning Policy Institute reports that, on average, the cost of teacher turnover in a rural district is around $9,000 per teacher, and an urban school district might spend close to $20,000 to replace and train a new teacher. The emotional impact of the loss is even greater. Teacher turnover negatively influences processes, routines, and morale. It has a lasting impact over time.
Related: The School Board Behaviors that Matter Most for Student Success in Texas
To reduce the effects of teacher turnover, districts must evaluate their culture. School districts vary, but many districts do not have a set philosophy about how they approach the impact of teacher turnover and improve teacher retention.
Teachers are key to increasing student achievement, and to a district’s continued success. Most districts recognize that compensation and rewards are necessary when assessing retention efforts, but they tend to overlook other important factors:
- Development and training for teachers
- How they recruit new teachers
- How they induct new teachers to the district
Districts can create systems that balance the needs of teachers with the goals of the district in a way that allows teachers to grow professionally, while giving them a voice in the plan for the school year.
Related: New Initiatives in Teacher Prep Programs, TASB’s HRX Blog
Your teacher induction program is an investment in the future
To last more than a year as a teacher, the rewards of the job must outweigh being overwhelmed by the challenges. New teacher induction sets teachers up for success. It’s about training, supporting, and retaining teachers over time.
According to long-time educator and educational speaker Harry Wong, an effective induction system is highly organized, comprehensive, a sustained effort over two to five years, and inclusive of the development of teaching practices through visits to classrooms and conversations with veteran teachers.
Goals of an effective teacher induction program, whether at the district or campus level, may help new teachers do the following:
- Develop a sensitivity and understanding of the community
- Establish classroom management techniques and systems
- Support a passion for lifelong learning and professional growth
- Promote unity and teamwork
- Create a network of individual and professional support
Stress and burnout are at an all-time high. Districts need to harness the potential of new teachers from day one and continue to engage them over years to come. By providing a strong induction program, districts support a system of ongoing support throughout the early years of their career.
Professional development and differentiated learning for teachers
Professional development is essential. In school districts, opportunities offered to teachers are either dynamic—or they fall flat. When creating opportunities for professional learning, districts should be mindful of the importance of differentiation as well as the format of delivery.
Differentiation means tailoring the continuing education opportunities to meet the individual needs of teachers. Much like the students they teach, teachers are individuals with different learning styles.
To support differentiated learning for teachers, school leaders should encourage teachers to set learning goals and create an action plan that incorporates professional development and training related to student achievement. Depending on experience, newer teachers may need more foundational training, while veteran teachers may seek more innovative opportunities to learn.
Allowing teachers to create and manage their own professional development plan establishes trust and respect between the teacher and school leadership.
Thinking outside the box
Typically, professional development models in school districts are based on a traditional model, which leads to a continuation of traditional teaching methods in the classroom. Research suggests that teachers who collaborate, innovate, and create have more success with their students and feel more satisfied with their teaching environment. When districts offer opportunities for teachers to collaborate and have conversations related to student learning, teacher efficacy increases, and the benefits transfer into the classroom.
To think outside the box, districts need to scrap traditional mindsets and begin looking for new ways to train and support teachers.
Here are a few unique examples of professional development based around collaboration and innovation:
- Professional Learning Communities (PLCs): PLCs can be every imaginable combination of individuals with an interest in education—a grade-level teaching team, a school committee, or a content-area department—who want to improve practice in the classroom collaboratively.
- Pineapple Program (peer observations): Typically, teacher observation is linked to classroom performance and conducted by a school administrator. In this model, teachers take advantage of the best source of free professional development available: each other. By watching their own colleagues teach during classroom visits, teachers learn things they can immediately apply in their own work. If they have follow-up questions, the experts are right down the hall.
- Edcamp: Edcamps are informal sessions by and for teachers where anyone can present. The focus is on collaboration and connections, group expertise, tech tools, and instructional design. They are free, and anyone can attend. The beauty of Edcamps is that everyone is considered an expert and worthy of sharing expertise in a collaborative setting. Learn more at edcamp.org.
- Micro-credentials: Some districts are turning to micro-credentials to train and identify potential teacher leaders. Micro-credentials are certifications that teachers can earn to show they have developed mastery in a certain area. These have gained popularity over the past several years and are trending toward being the new, innovative model for professional development. TEA is set to approve and include micro-credentials as part of an educator’s public certification records in the near future.
A rich and wide-ranging professional development program can support teachers in acquiring the skills needed to be confident and knowledgeable in the classroom. Most teachers are natural learners and want ongoing and continued opportunities to fill their toolbox to support students in the classroom.
Teacher compensation and rewards
One of the most important elements of a strong retention system is compensation. While compensation is rarely the number-one reason teachers leave the profession, the teacher pay gap is a factor when teachers decide to leave. When compared to other workers of similar education levels, skills, and experience, teachers are consistently paid less.
Recent bills passed by the Texas Legislature have prioritized compensation for teachers, but rising insurance premiums and a rising cost of living will continue to fuel the trend of teacher turnover due to compensation. Districts must make concerted efforts to address compensation for teachers as well as identify and address other issues related to compensation that impact teacher turnover.
While compensation is extremely important, districts should offer other rewards and incentives to teachers. In a survey by the Graide Network, recognition, appreciation, and encouragement are cited as key factors to teachers feeling supported in their work. Teachers want to feel valued as professionals and have a voice in decision-making process in their organization.
More than anything, teachers want feedback from school administrators that is both positive and centered on improvement.
A strong total rewards program (including non-compensable rewards) strengthens recruitment and retention efforts and can be a determining factor in teachers staying with the district.
TASB’s HR Services has conducted annual surveys on teacher pay and benefits in Texas public schools since 1984. Highlights from the Teacher Compensations in Texas Public Schools report, including average teacher salaries, starting pay, and teacher stipends and incentives data, is available to review. The full report is available to TASB HR Services members on-demand in HRDataSource.
Related: TASB’s HRX Blog for HR industry news and guidance in Texas public schools.
Key takeaways for school boards who want to do more to support teachers
School board members are key advocates for teachers. By setting board goals and initiating conversations with key personnel about programs in place to provide support for teachers, trustees can help strengthen efforts to improve teacher retention. Some key questions for board members to consider are:
- What type of onboarding, induction, and mentoring programs does our district offer for new teachers?
- Do district goals align with efforts to retain and support teachers?
- Are we providing adequate training and development for our teachers to successfully implement our initiatives and goals related to student success?
- What does our professional development program look like for our teachers and what opportunities do we offer teachers to collaborate, innovate, and practice autonomy in their professional learning?
- Are we allocating appropriate budget and resources to teacher support and retention efforts?
When there is a combined effort to keep high-quality teachers in the classroom, board members demonstrate their commitment to teachers and the importance of keeping the best talent in the district.
Creating a legacy of strong teachers and student achievement means districts must invest energy, time, and resources into programs directed at teacher support and retention.
Given the myriad demands of running a school district, teacher development and training may seem like an afterthought to the many other initiatives at the forefront of student achievement and success.
The bottom line: Investing in teachers is investing in students. That’s what makes a school district a success.
Jennifer Barton is a TASB HR Services Compensation Consultant.