Teacher retention is in a crisis in the United States. Here are four steps districts can take to support teachers and encourage them to remain in the field.
One of the biggest challenges facing school district leaders today is the staggering teacher turnover rate in the United States. Studies show that as many as 260,000 teachers leave the profession annually, most for reasons other than retirement. About 16 percent of teachers will change jobs each year, either to move to another teaching job or to enter a new profession entirely. Driving this trend? The most common reasons cited for leaving include feeling unsupported and unheard in their schools.
University of Pennsylvania professor of teaching Richard Ingersoll credits teacher turnover to a lack of respect. “Teachers in schools do not call the shots,” he says, “they have very little say.” Additionally, Ingersoll notes that while many teachers love the classroom and love teaching every day, they may feel that they have no choice but to advance to administrative roles or to leave the profession altogether in order to advance in their careers and receive a significant pay increase.
Unfortunately, when experienced teachers leave, schools are left understaffed and the remaining teachers are overworked, filling in gaps and picking up slack for new or underqualified teachers. In addition, districts are left to shoulder the cost of recruiting, hiring, and training new teachers — and with the cost of placing an inexperienced teacher in the classroom, which studies show can be significant.
The onus is on district leadership and administrators to cultivate and retain talented teachers, and that begins with making teachers feel supported and respected in their roles. Below, we’ll explore four steps districts can take to make teachers feel heard, supported, and challenged professionally, in turn reducing teacher turnover and improving student outcomes:
1. Prepare and support first-year teachers.
One in five teachers will leave the classroom within the first five years on the job, and in urban or at-risk districts, that number climbs to 50 percent. A strong teacher induction process can be the factor that determines whether new teachers sink or swim — and whether they continue teaching. Optimizing your onboarding process for new teachers can help ensure that educators will stick around for the long haul.
One of the biggest mistakes districts make in training new teachers is believing that an onboarding process that lasts a day, a week, or a month is sufficient to prepare them for a career in the classroom. Rather, professional development should be a career-long effort — but of course, it should be especially robust in the first two or three years that an educator is in the classroom.
There’s a direct correlation between the extent to which new teachers feel supported and their likelihood of remaining in the profession, according to a longitudinal study of teacher retention.
Districts should provide new teachers with one-on-one mentorship, collaborative group courses, and building-wide professional development (PD) opportunities, letting these new educators know that their voices are heard and their difficulties in the classroom are understood — both on day one and throughout their tenure with the district.
2. Cultivate a culture of collaboration.
Studies show that a culture of collaboration within a school and district is an essential component of retaining talented teachers. Highly collaborative and collegial school cultures can contribute to augmenting teacher professional growth, increasing job satisfaction, and strengthening organizational and professional commitment. As a result, school performance and student learning outcomes improve as well.
School leadership can facilitate school-wide collaboration by building collaborative meetings into teachers’ schedules and providing action-oriented meeting agendas. Appointed teacher leaders can be responsible for guiding the collaborative sessions, making them a more comfortable space for teachers to share their stresses, concerns, and frustrations. Encourage teachers to share classroom strategies and even teaching materials — it can reduce stress on individual teachers if they collaborate to share work amongst themselves.
3. Appropriately promote and compensate standout teachers.
Because teaching is a demanding and complex job, educators who make it a lifelong career and receive the necessary support along the way will become much more skilled and effective over time. However, facing a lack of career growth opportunities, many young and veteran teachers find it difficult to maintain motivation to remain in the field long enough to see their hard work pay off.
While resources are understandably limited and compensation is often out of their control, district leadership should do everything possible to ensure that salaries are competitive and scaled appropriately, especially in cases when standout teachers are promoted to leadership positions. Those positions often entail more work and responsibility, and pay should reflect that. Fortunately, teacher leadership roles can more than make up for their cost with improved district operations and savings.
4. Provide leadership and professional growth opportunities for teachers.
A study from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards shows that teachers who leave the profession do so in large part because of a lack of decision-making and leadership opportunities. Researcher Charlotte Danielson calls teaching a “flat” profession, meaning that there is limited opportunity for upward mobility. For that reason, teachers who crave career rigor may find themselves dissatisfied in their careers over time.
Schools can retain these teachers by creating leadership opportunities for educators at every level. Teacher leadership roles create a redesigned district hierarchy, offering educators the opportunity to grow professionally and receive increased compensation without leaving the classroom behind.
That said, teachers don’t necessarily have to be appointed to leadership roles to grow professionally and increase their career satisfaction. Hoonuit’s comprehensive professional development solution not only allows educators at every level to choose PD pathways that they find relevant to their own professional goals — it enables them to complete those courses on their own time.
A Better Way to Manage Education Talent
Hoonuit’s human capital management platform enables school and district leaders to better manage their talent pool, strengthen pipeline planning, and evaluate outcomes in ways that have never before been possible. Our comprehensive human capital product suite allows key stakeholders to understand how teacher experience and professional development impact and contribute to school- and student-level outcomes. We help you identify staff members who can grow into new leadership positions at both the teacher and administrator level, and decrease the time and expense of making a new hire by increasing the likelihood of a good long-term match.
To find out how Hoonuit can transform your district’s approach to human capital management, click here.
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