It takes major courage to be a teacher these days.
The teacher pay gap is wider than ever, and many educators feel forced to choose between meaning and money. “If I didn’t have a second job, I’d be on food stamps,” says Rae Lovelace, a single mom and third-grade teacher at Leedey Public Schools in Oklahoma. Rae works 30 hours per week at a second job teaching online courses.
So, yes. It's tough out there for teachers. And as the teacher pay crisis continues to dominate headlines, it becomes even harder to find and keep the qualified staff you need.
Question is, what can we do about it?
As employers and school administrators, we may not always have full control over how budgets are allocated. But that doesn't mean our hands are tied.
Here are five often overlooked perks and benefits to help you successfully attract and retain talented teachers, against all odds.
1. Game-changing bonuses and incentives
A teacher's added salary "has to be transformative," says Nínive Clements Calegari, co-author of Teachers Have It Easy: The Big Sacrifices and Small Salaries of America's Teachers.
For a bonus to feel truly valuable, it needs to be big enough to help teachers move the needle on personal goals like starting a family or purchasing a home.
- Offer teachers 15-20% of base pay as a potential annual bonus based on performance.
- Provide service-based scholarships for graduates who teach in underperforming schools.
- Support home purchase programs to help teachers qualify for reduced interest rate loans or tax credits.
2. Professional development they actually want
What teacher hasn't experienced the irony of being lectured to for hours about the importance of student differentiation?
A one-size-fits-all approach to professional development is killing educators' chances of achieving tangible progress in their careers. Experienced educators are often forced to attend the same programs as brand new teachers. In the end, the majority walks away with very little value.
If you want to attract and retain stellar educators, don't assume you know what they need. Find out what they want to learn about and think of creative ways to deliver those opportunities.
- Allow teachers to invest 10 or more hours of PD per week by freeing up their time during the workweek.
- Let teachers choose which programs or courses to take and when to take them.
- Arrange specific days when students are released so educators can spend time learning.
- Hire substitute educators so teachers can meet in learning teams.
3. Mentorship that matters
Research from Stanford University found “teachers leave the profession much faster if they have less preparation before they enter the industry and less mentoring support when they arrive.”
In fact, according to a similar Stanford study “teachers without student teaching preparation in the curriculum, teaching methods, learning, and child development leave at twice the rate as teachers who’ve had this kind of training."
Learning and development should start the moment a future teacher chooses their career path and should continue until the day they retire.
- Give future teachers a year of paid practice to get real-world insight into what the job requires.
- Offer the option to enroll in summer training, then place recruits in mentored internships throughout the school year.
- Introduce mentoring programs for all new hires regardless of experience.
- Start a shared planning program to keep experienced teachers challenged and engaged.
4. Teacher travel programs
Teachers are envied for their long holidays. But do they really get enough time off to relax and recharge?
The truth is, many teachers spend their breaks planning lessons, preparing materials and attending mandatory trainings. But the right kind of travel can be rewarding both personally and professionally.
There are plenty of ways to promote a meaningful getaway for your teaching staff—without taking a big bite out of the budget. For example, each year the National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions hosts a competition to select a number of K–12 geography teachers to go on funded expeditions around the world.
- Provide paid scholarships for educators who want to learn while traveling the world.
- Help your teachers find and apply for travel grants and fellowships.
- Promote competitions for staff to win a trip abroad.
- Encourage travel sabbaticals.
5. Make work a better place
In his research, author Keith Herman and his team found that 93% of elementary school teachers have high levels of stress. They also found that high teacher stress is usually associated with poorer student results and frequent behavior problems.
One powerful way to attract and retain quality educators is to simply offer them better working conditions. With a little extra support and autonomy, teachers can bypass burnout and overwhelm and feel more engaged at work.
- Allow teachers to select their own instructional materials and encourage them to take control of their teaching methods.
- Address effective classroom management, an overlooked component of teacher development.
- Open the communication channels and commit to closing the gap between teachers and leadership.
- Bring in resources for curriculum innovations such as digital inclusion and mobile learning.
Just like a developing mind, teachers need continuous nurturing to grow, advance and truly transform our learning landscape. Once we recognize that teachers have needs including, but not limited to, better pay—we can find ways to make the job truly worth their while.