Understanding why teachers leave can help leaders develop and implement strategies that can result in fewer resignations during as well as at the end of the school year.
Teachers are in the third year of dealing with and responding to the pandemic, student learning loss, high academic demands, unruly student behaviors, burnout, and concerns with school safety. And now, due to high inflation combined with limited pay and resources, many teachers have reached a breaking point.
Add in a strong job market that is providing more opportunities outside of education, the challenge of retaining teachers has dramatically increased.
Approximately 77 percent of Texas teachers participating in the Charles Butt Foundation’s third annual survey on teacher satisfaction considered leaving the profession.
Ninety-three percent of the surveyed teachers reported they were taking steps to depart so some of these teachers may not wait until the end of the school year to leave. Anecdotally, district leaders state they have seen more teachers leave their jobs this past fall and winter than in past years.
Mid-year teacher resignations are particularly disruptive to student learning, require long-term substitutes, pause instructional plans, and cause general chaos to the school community.
Hiring replacements during the school year can be difficult, and even when a new teacher is hired the institutional knowledge the previous teacher possessed is difficult to replace. Training the new teacher, assimilating the new hire to the school culture, and getting them up to speed takes valuable time and efforts.
Staying in tune to what teachers want and need to be satisfied in their jobs can be difficult but is important to address retention. Some teachers want more money while others want more respect, more recognition, more support, or more planning and collaboration time.
To compound the situation, what teachers need and want can change during the school year. Supervisors can watch for early warning signs that a teacher is looking for the exit door, such as decreased initiative or production, shift in attitude, lack of commitment, or dwindling enthusiasm.
While we know individuals leave jobs for many reasons it’s important to determine if the reason is involuntary or voluntary. Some reasons are out of an employee’s control while others are in their control. Examples of involuntary resignations could be because of a spouse changing jobs, health reasons, or termination due to poor performance. Intentional retention strategies should be designed to focus on the voluntary reasons.
Once specific reasons are determined, verify them with supporting data, such as exit interviews or anecdotal conversations. Next, brainstorm retention strategies, and finally, implement the most reasonable and popular ones.
Retention strategies to implement could include:
- Formally survey teachers on a regular basis at the organizational level.
- Informally survey teachers at the campus level.
- Implement stay interviews or regular check-ins with individual teachers or small groups of teachers.
- Respond quickly to feedback provided.
- Build connections and trust between supervisors and teachers by providing supports.
- Build a positive, supportive school culture through daily interactions with individual teachers.
- Schedule coordinating conference times with peer teachers to ease planning and data analysis.
- Ensure teams of teachers and/or professional learning communities (PLCs) are operating in a positive and productive manner.
- Evaluate work schedules and reduce tasks where possible.
- Provide extra behavior supports with difficult students to reduce work stress.
- Provide community supports and resources if available.
- Offer flexible options for professional development.
- Empower teachers by allowing the most amount of autonomy and flexibility possible in their jobs.
- Provide opportunities for teachers to serve in leadership roles.
- Ensure security measures are up to date and implemented properly at the campus and organization level.
- Build in regular recognition of teachers (e.g., at staff meetings, posting kudos on bulletin boards, and highlighting teachers on campus websites or newsletters) instead of waiting until the end of the year.
- Encourage staff to work reasonable hours — give permission to leave on time or even early on certain days without feeling guilty or pressured.
- Refrain from asking teachers to donate financially to student causes or to employee celebrations.
- Explore the availability of retention bonuses or employee referral bonuses.
- Provide information on available benefits such as the organization’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP).
Continually communicating with teachers, understanding their needs and wants, and responding quickly to data collected can create a more positive and collaborative work environment resulting in higher retention rates of teachers.
Supporting resources are available in the Employee Relations section of the HR Library (member login required), including:
Additionally, TASB HR Services is offering a new training, Recruiting and Retaining School Employees (registration and fee required) on February 22-23, 2023. The webinar Improving Employee Retention is available free of charge on the TASB website.
Working to support teachers in innovative ways can increase the chance that they will continue employment with your organization.
Cheryl Hoover joined HR Services in 2018. She assists with staffing and HR reviews, training, and other HR projects. During Hoover’s public school career, she served as an executive director of curriculum and principal leadership, executive director of human resources, principal, assistant principal, teacher, and coach.
Hoover earned her bachelor’s degree from The University of Texas at Austin and obtained her master’s degree from Texas State University. She is a certified PHR.
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