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Don’t give your best teachers a reason to quit on you

K12 schools face significant pressure to keep students engaged in learning. Every technology vendor you meet claims to be on the verge of the next big catch-all solution for classroom success.

But it isn’t just students who need help staying engaged in the subject matter; new evidence suggests that teachers are also starting to lose interest.

The findings are courtesy of NPR’s education team, which recently examined enrollment rates in statewide teacher education programs. What they found was alarming.

Over the past five years, enrollment in teacher training programs in the state of California is down more than half (53 percent). Other bellwether states, such as Texas and New York, have reported similar declines.

In North Carolina, NPR reports that participation in teacher training programs is down 20 percent over three years.

Bill McDiarmid, dean of the University of North Carolina School of Education, attributed the decline to a range of issues, from increased federal involvement to heightened scrutiny of teacher performance to a perception of poor pay and a lack of respect.

“It tears me up sometimes to see the way in which people talk about teachers because they are giving blood, sweat and tears for their students every day in this country,” McDiarmid told NPR. “There is a sense now that, ‘If I went into this job and it doesn’t pay a lot and it’s a lot of hard work, it may be that I’d lose it.’ And students are hearing this. And it deters them from entering the profession.”

Engaging educators
Even as technology radically transforms the classroom, K12 administrators know that the benefits of innovation hinge on their ability to marshal the support of staff and stakeholders.

McDiarmid says teachers often feel marginalized and underappreciated. The perception is that teachers become scapegoats for the failings of the school system. In reality, it’s a lack of resources, both in training and in pay, that drive people from the profession.

So, how can schools create a better, more fulfilling work environment for educators? How can they entice the best teachers to stay and finish what they started? Better pay is a good incentive. But it’s not the only solution. For a lot of districts, the process begins with a commitment to improved communication.

At the Rockford Public Schools in Illinois, the central office launched an online platform that gives the district’s 4,000 faculty members and teachers a direct line to the central office.

Superintendent Ehren Jarrett says the solution makes it possible to extend conversations with building staff beyond once yearly site visits and to “get a clearer, richer picture” of how teachers and others perceive the school system.

“Now, there is an ongoing opportunity to have regular dialogue with not only with the superintendent, but with any of the people in the district office who serve the staff,” explains Jarrett, who says that engaging staff in his top priority.

As a school leader, what steps have you taken to empower educators in your district? Do you believe that better communication is key to recruiting and retaining exceptional staff? If so, Let’s Talk! is worth a look.