Why Are So Many Teachers Leaving their Jobs? (And how to get them to stay)

Teacher turnover is getting worse by the minute.

If you're in the unenviable position of having to find people to fill the shoes of some of your best former teachers, know that you're not alone.

The numbers are clear: it's getting harder and harder to find highly-qualified teachers. But can we blame graduates for not pursuing careers in education? Or veteran teachers for not wanting to continue the fight?

Not really. The hard truth is, there are many legitimate challenges facing this profession.

Let’s take a closer look at why teachers leave are leaving their jobs in such high numbers and dive into some of the ways you can beat the odds.

Gratitude doesn’t pay the bills

Ask literally anyone and they’ll agree: Teachers totally deserve better pay.

With 1 in 5 teachers having to hold a second job to make ends meet, it's no wonder educators are taking to the streets to demand fair compensation. But despite the recent protests, many would-be educators have already decided a career in teaching just isn't worth it.

Annual bonuses and performance-based incentives could change that.

For example, the Vaughn Next Century Learning Center in California has a system in which teachers can earn an additional $17,000 a year in performance-based bonuses. And a bonus like that can make a big difference in the life of a teacher.

"My base pay at Vaughn is virtually identical to the district's," says Andy Carbonell, a sixth-grade math teacher. "But when you include all the possible bonuses and incentives, my salary is substantially larger."

If this isn’t exactly doable in your case, keep reading. We’ve got some budget-friendly tips to help you retain qualified staff.

No collaboration, no retention

In the business world, it's a known fact that a collaborative environment is better for the bottom line.

According to a Globoforce study, companies with peer-to-peer recognition programs were 35% more likely to have less turnover. Likewise, teachers whose schools have strong collaboration models report dramatically higher satisfaction with their day-to-day work.

Here are some ways you can foster a more encouraging environment: 

  • Integrate formal collaboration into the master schedule 
  • Advocate for shared lesson planning (in groups or on a rotating basis) 
  • Promote a positive culture around peer-to-peer support and collaboration

Offset career uncertainty with relevant PD

A 2014 national survey from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation found that, for many teachers, the professional training they receive is neither relevant nor effective. 

According to The Center for American Progress, that's because “the American educational system has been more successful at producing professional development (PD) quantity than quality.”

Enough said. It’s time for education leaders to ensure their institutions provide the kind of programs teachers need to truly thrive.

  • First, don't assume you know what teachers want and need—let them decide how they want to journey through their professional development.
  • Make PD programs interactive. According to the research, the best PD programs usually involve hands-on strategies.
  • Get someone who knows what it’s like to be in their shoes to deliver the training. According to one survey respondent: “The best PD has been when a teacher shows me what has revolutionized their classroom—anything a fellow teacher who’s still in the classroom has to say beats out anything else.”
  • Crosscheck evaluations to get meaningful feedback from teachers enrolled in PD programs.

Give them voice

According to a 2018 Gallup report, 52% of US-based K-12 teachers say they should have a great deal of input in school decisions, but only 7% say their input is considered.

Here's how you can help give your educators a voice:

  • Encourage a more transparent exchange of feedback between teachers and administrators.
  • Give teachers a greater sense of autonomy by allowing them to select their own methods and materials.
  • Encourage your teachers to seek out and implement innovative teaching approaches in their classrooms.

Lead like you mean it

Teachers who don't feel supported by their leaders and administrators are more than twice as likely to leave their jobs. But with pressure coming from all directions, it can be hard for administrators to raise their game.

Here are some approaches to consider:

  • Improve communication channels to bridge the gap between teachers and administrators.
  • Reduce skepticism of by hiring trained coaches.
  • Use your school's mission to inspire your teachers at every opportunity.

If we take a deeper look at the issue, solving the teacher turnover crisis is clearly about more than money. In a world where some of our most admirable workers aren't getting the credit they deserve, a sense of autonomy and a belief in the future can help keep them inspired and committed, even on the toughest days.

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