As we close out National Teacher Appreciation Week, it’s nice to see teachers receive so much recognition and thanks. It’s also important to remember something else: kind tweets and promotional discounts are nice, but they don’t necessarily make teachers’ jobs any better, or easier.
If you believe the latest research, America’s teachers are less satisfied with their jobs today than any time in the history of public education. What’s worse, new reports suggest many of them are quitting.
Take Arkansas, for example: A report out last month showed that one in three teachers in the state quit within three years. Nationally, estimates put teacher attrition somewhere around 20 percent after 5 years. Even more alarming, 10 percent of teachers leave after only one year on the job.
Of course, pay is a big factor. The Arkansas study found that low salary and retirement benefits were two top reasons for the teacher exodus. But compensation isn’t the only factor.
Here’s three other reasons teachers leave their jobs, along with some thoughts about how to address them.
In a survey conducted last year by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), a majority of teachers reported high levels of on-the-job stress. High-stakes tests, changing priorities, and student behavior issues all contribute to the problem, which is especially common among new teachers without effective coping skills.
Says AFT’s Randi Weingarten: “We ask teachers to be a combination of Albert Einstein, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr. and, I’m dating myself here, Tony Soprano…And when they don’t do these things, we blame them for not being saviors of the world. What is the effect? The effect has been teachers are incredibly stressed out.”
What schools can do: Emotional health expert Dr. Rollin McCraty suggests schools implement “specific, proven programs for reducing” stress. If nothing else, make sure teachers have a way to talk about their stress, understand their day-to-day stress levels, and get support for their struggles and everyday challenges.
Teachers have an easy schedule—seven-hour work days, summers off. What’s not to like, right? Think again. Recent surveys show most teachers work 10 to 16 hours a day. The infographic below from BusyTeacher.org shows a morning-to-night teacher schedule that includes weeks of work during summer “vacation.”
What schools can do: Is it too simplistic to suggest that we just get rid of the meetings and the paperwork? Perhaps. But your district should give serious thought to how to make that work more manageable. Invite ideas and feedback from teachers about how to make meetings more efficient and how to reduce the amount of busywork they do. Have you considered surveying your teachers to find out what they think about their workload? You should.
Lack of respect
University of Pennsylvania education professor Richard Ingersoll worked for six years as a high school teacher before transitioning into higher education. As he told The Atlantic: “One of the big reasons I quit was sort of intangible. But it’s very real: It’s just a lack of respect. Teachers in schools do not call the shots. They have very little say. They’re told what to do; it’s a very disempowered line of work.”
According to the AFT study, more than half of surveyed teachers said they’re prevented from making decisions on their own. Similar studies show that many teachers do not feel empowered by or engaged with school leaders and administrators.
What schools can do: In many ways, this may be the easiest issue to solve. It starts with bringing teachers into the conversation. Start a dialogue about school improvement and use their suggestions to help make smarter decisions. Giving teachers a voice in your decision-making process is often the first step toward providing the autonomy they seek.
How does your school or district address staff and faculty concerns? Tell us in the comments.
Looking for ways to involve teachers in school and district decision-making? Start by having an honest conversation.