Teacher retention in the United States is an ongoing issue that affects student achievement and school climate. Many eager first-year teachers are underprepared for the workload and the emotional and social challenges the profession demands. When I was working as an administrator, my goal was to do everything possible to hire the best possible teachers and, more importantly, keep them in my building. According to the U.S. Department of Education, one in five teachers leave the profession each year. When you slice this statistic based on struggling schools or those with high rates of poverty, the number of teachers that choose to leave increases dramatically. Here are five things to consider as you work to find and retain outstanding classroom teachers.
1. The path to increasing teacher retention begins with the interview process.
Query candidates about their strategies for balancing work and personal life. Talk to them about their expectations in terms of workload, and ask them honestly about how they decompress and deal with stress. This process can lead to authentic conversations about the demands of the classroom and inform potential candidates about your leadership style as an administrator. When teachers have a clear understanding of the situation they are coming into, they’ll be much more likely to know if it’s truly a good fit for them.
2. All new teachers—and those new to your building—need a mentor.
A recent study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania School of Education demonstrated that 86% of new teachers assigned to a mentor lasted at least five years in the same district. A mentor should work with the incoming staff member for at least one full school year, and it is essential to lay out the specific duties and responsibilities of this person, including expectations for time spent. Many districts provide a stipend for mentors, recognizing that such a person can mean the difference between investing in a teacher who stays for the long term instead of resigning after a semester.
Mentors should focus on three areas: housekeeping, classroom duties, and larger initiatives. Housekeeping refers to a variety of tasks, including duty assignments, supervision during passing periods, and assistance with a specific need or request. Classroom duties include processes and procedures for managing information, such as grades, assessments, attendance, security issues, and special classes like music or art. For elementary teachers, this includes classroom decorations, station setup, and acquisition or review of materials on hand. Finally, larger initiatives refer to how the mentor can provide detailed information regarding districtwide or building-wide programs and how each individual teacher fits into these programs. Mentors and new teachers should have a minimum of 30 minutes per week to meet.
3. Recognize your role as an advocate.
Teaching is a tough job, even on the best day. When teachers know their administrators have their backs, it makes the job possible. Be proactive when tricky situations arise, such as classroom management issues or difficult parents. Don’t wait to act or assume the situation will resolve itself. Ask teachers what help and support they think they need—and ask them to propose solutions. Teachers who feel their opinions and abilities are valued are much more likely to invest for the long haul. Allow new teachers to fail gracefully, and support them in making different choices the next time.
4. Don’t overwhelm new teachers with committees and teams.
Incoming staff members are trying to figure out how everything functions—so resist the temptation to assign them to projects or leadership teams. There is a fine line between bringing someone into an expected level of responsibility and defeating an eager teacher.
5. Effective communication is key.
This one may seem obvious, but that doesn’t make it any less vital. Check in frequently with all of your teachers but especially new hires, both in-person and via email. Make these interactions personal and supportive as much as possible. One of my favorite practices as an administrator was to visit classrooms in the mornings and leave a Post-it note on every teacher’s desk with something positive that I had observed in my few minutes in their rooms. Be intentional about making yourself available when staff members have a question or concern, and do so in a timely manner. Avoid emails after work hours unless there is an emergency. In this digital age, most of us are connected to our cell phones 24/7, and if it “pings,” we feel compelled to read and respond. Over time, this can be draining and defeating to staff and administration who are entitled to space between work and home.
Administrators who are willing to invest time and effort at the front end when hiring teachers are much more likely to have those teachers stick around. Even if it adds slightly to your own workload, think of these actions as an investment with compound interest that benefits your students as well as the rest of your staff.
Looking for additional strategies to support your teachers—even when the going gets tough? Check out these Easy, Cost-Effective Strategies to Boost Teacher Morale!