We’ve all seen the headlines– schools across the country are experiencing staffing shortages and turnover at a rate we’ve never seen before. Virtually every community has been affected by this problem, and schools are scrambling to get classrooms staffed.
You know how it’s affected your school, but what does this trend look like across the country, and what can we do to increase teacher retention?
First, according to the National School Boards Association (NSBA), teacher hiring has increased since 1989, with emphasis on hiring teachers with specializations such as math, science, or reading. This all sounds like great news, but schools are seeing that increased hiring does not mean more staff like originally thought. According to Professor Richard Ingersoll of the University of Pennsylvania, 44% of teachers leave the occupation within the first five years, giving today’s average teacher just 1-3 years of experience instead of the 15-year average 30 years ago.
This leaves schools in a more-than-difficult spot. Filling vacant positions must be top priority, but the vacancy itself can’t be too competitive. This means schools must make concessions somewhere, and that ends up being in the requirements for the job. According to the NSBA, a survey of 31 participating states found that 82,000 teachers were underqualified for their job, and there were still 5,000 unfilled teaching positions.
However, under-prepared teachers are not the only ones leaving. Even seasoned professionals left at the height of the pandemic due to stress. They’ve also cited lack of mentoring, pressures of test-based accountability, and low salaries as other factors in their decision to leave the profession regardless of experience.
It’s also worth noting that schools spend thousands of dollars (between $10,000-$20,000) replacing those who have left. With limited school funding, it is difficult to offer prospecting teachers a competitive salary– continuing the professional dissatisfaction cycle.
When schools struggle to get their classrooms staffed, students are not getting the proper education. It is much more difficult to keep students on track when their educators are spread too thin. In fact, schools with high teacher turnover saw test scores averaging 6-10% lower across all subjects as opposed to those with steady staffing.
At the end of the day, teachers want support and better outreach. According to NSBA, programs for new teachers to be guided by more experienced teachers have proven to improve teacher retention: “A study of California schools’ that worked to retain teachers found that ‘high quality induction and mentoring programs reduced attrition by 26% in just two years.’ Multiple studies show that beginning teachers who participate in mentoring and induction activities are less likely to change schools and less likely leave the occupation within the first year.”
NSBA also recommends hiring a third-party instructional coach to aid new teachers in developing the required skills to teach, so that the profession is more manageable and less overwhelming. A coach will also be able to answer any career-based questions that administrators might not be able to.
Further, showing support as a district leader is crucial. While a teacher appreciation breakfast is always nice, such gestures treat the symptom rather than the illness. Open-door policies for teachers to come in, express concerns, and voice opinions lets them know that you value their input. The willingness to have a conversation about what needs to change shows you care. Recognizing their hard work and giving timely feedback on accomplishments also shows an investment in professional growth, which goes a long way.
Finally, encouraging teachers to care for their mental health is of utmost importance. Teacher burnout is a real thing, and it is causing more teachers to leave in the middle of the school year than ever before. Mental health initiatives can range from school-wide wellness policies to mental health professional learning. Also, be sure to familiarize yourself with the signs of teacher burnout, so that you can talk to your educators before it’s too late.