How to Retain Your Teachers
There is so much work and preparation that goes into being a great teacher. As a principal, you see what your teachers have to offer on a daily basis—from their deep relationships with students and families to their commitments toward improving their practice to the teamwork they demonstrate with their colleagues. Those reasons alone are why the stats about teacher turnover should be so concerning to you. Almost 16% of teachers leave the field each year, with 40%-50% of new teachers abandoning the profession within the first five years.
One common reason teachers leave the profession is because of poor school culture. Other reasons include stress and low pay. Conversely, teachers stay in the classroom to work with students, to provide excellent educational opportunities, to be challenged, and to grow as learners themselves. As an administrator, if you can understand why some teachers leave and why others stay, you can create systems to retain your staff.
Here are a few suggestions to get you started.
Provide teachers with specific coaching.
If your school doesn’t already ask teachers to set personalized goals for themselves at the beginning of the year, you should start. Empower your teachers to hone in on specific areas they’d like to work on. This system works for both new and experienced teachers, who are also eager to grow. Next, find a coach for each teacher based on his or her goal. The coach might be another teacher, a board member, or even you. Be sure each goal has milestones and ways to assess for mastery. At the end of the year, have the teacher and coach reflect on the partnership. This information will help you give specific training to coaches in the future.
Offer leadership opportunities.
Not all teachers are looking to grow out of the classroom, many are very happy working directly with their students. However, some are looking for different ways to contribute, especially when those positions have bonuses or stipends attached. A few positions that are great steps up for striving teachers are: grade level team leaders, department leads, curriculum leads, grant writing teams, coaching, tech integration committee members. Find out what your teachers are interested in learning about outside of the classroom and see what possibilities are available.
Protect teachers’ free time.
According to the NEA, “Teachers spend an average of 50 hours per week on instructional duties, including an average of 12 hours each week on non-compensated school-related activities such as grading papers, bus duty, and club advising.” And, unlike other professionals who attend training and development during normal working hours, teachers usually attend professional development during the summer, their so-called “time off.” You know how hard your teachers work. So do what you can to ensure they have the time they need to rejuvenate and use their free time as planned. That means not asking them to cover recess, lunch, hallway passing time, or drop-off and pick-up time. In addition, don’t schedule meetings during their planning periods—let them have that time to work.
Support flexible arrangements.
One reason teachers leave is due to a lack of work-life balance. This is especially true for teachers who are also parents. Many professions allow employees to come in late, leave early, work from home, and schedule appointments as needed. But teachers are more likely to cram all of their appointments into their short summer breaks and come into work even when they’re sick. By giving teachers flexible working arrangements, you might find that they’re less burnt out and more satisfied with their work. These arrangements might include co-teaching, team teaching or job sharing, and hybrid roles that include a half day of teaching and a half day of doing other school-related duties like curriculum coaching or technology planning.
Teachers are dedicated workers who usually feel greatly fulfilled by their work. However, when they’re in unsupportive environments, they feel disrespected and burn out quickly. As a principal, you set the tone for the entire teaching staff. Make sure to consider implementing programs and systems will work to retain your teachers. And don’t forget to tell them how much their work means to you, the school, and the community at large.
Amanda Ronan is an Austin-based writer. After many years as a teacher, Amanda transitioned out of the classroom and into educational publishing. She wrote and edited English, language arts, reading, and social studies content for grades K-12. Since becoming a full-time writer, Amanda has worked with a diverse set of clients, ranging from functional medicine doctors to design schools to moving companies. She blogs, writes long-form articles, and pens YA and children's fiction. Her first YA series, My Brother is a Robot, is slated for release by Scobre Educational Press in September 2015.