When it comes to teacher attrition, what once was a perpetual concern for K-12 school districts may be morphing into a flat-out crisis.
Teachers and other public education employees are leaving their jobs at the highest rate ever recorded according to a recent analysis of Federal Labor Department statistics by The Wall Street Journal.
Between October 2017 and October 2018, one million public education workers-including teachers, janitors, school counselors, and community-college faculty–quit their positions, according to recent statistics.
“In the first 10 months of 2018, public educators quit at an average rate of 83 per 10,000 a month, according to the Labor Department. While that is still well below the rate for American workers overall—231 voluntary departures per 10,000 workers in 2018—it is the highest rate for public educators since such records began in 2001.”
An improved economy, tight labor market, and a low unemployment rate have created an environment where more workers are choosing to leave their jobs in search of new opportunities, experts say. But, the public education sector–which has long prided itself on stability and longevity–has previously not seen an exodus of this magnitude, even during strong economies.
Underappreciated or uninterested?
While these latest figures may seem shocking, they shouldn’t be news to school district leaders.
A national Gallup poll found that 83 percent of participating superintendents identified the ability to hire and maintain quality faculty as a key challenge.
Rising teacher attrition rates in recent years have been attributed to several factors, including a lack of appreciation for the time and effort required to excel as an educator, dwindling interest in the profession among college students, along with stagnant wages and resource support, as demonstrated last year during a string of teacher protests across several states.
Engaging your teachers
Fortunately, experts say there are practical steps that superintendents and principals can take to reduce teacher attrition.
Here’s just a few.
1. Hire passionate teachers
In the midst of a massive teacher shortage, it may be tempting to hire anyone and everyone who is interested in open positions at your district. That’s a mistake.
Because of the many challenges facing the teaching profession, hiring teachers who may not be all-in on the mission of your schools will inevitably lead to a less engaged faculty.
“They’re not coming into this because it’s a job, but because they really do like kids—and they want to make a difference in the lives of kids by teaching them and nurturing them,” says Dan Domenech, executive director of AASA, the School Superintendents Association, describing the type of candidate that K-12 school leaders and hiring managers should strive for. “I never hired a teacher—or a principal, for that matter,” says Domenech, a former superintendent, “unless I had the sense that this was an individual who truly cared about kids, and this wasn’t just a job for them.”
2. Make teacher training a priority
While teacher passion is essential, it needs to be supported by an understanding of how best to help students succeed in and out of the classroom.
Strong training goes beyond classroom tools and empowers teachers to understand students’ social and emotional needs.
“The day has come where school and district leaders must create professional cultures where teachers can take charge of their own adult learning,” writes former AASA superintendent of the year, Dr. Philip Lanoue. “No longer can we put everyone in a room for days of large-scale, cookie-cutter learning opportunities and check professional development off the list.”
“Professional learning must be embedded in the everyday work school leaders and teachers do to improve learning outcomes for students and the adults who work with them…Professional development is a joint responsibility where school leaders serve as lead learners in a school culture that allows for risk-taking, which fuels innovation.”
3. Involve teachers in decision making
A survey of teachers by the Center on Education Policy found that nearly half (47 percent) felt their voices weren’t included in the school decision-making process. More than 75 percent said there voices weren’t being heard at the district level.
For teachers to truly be empowered, they need to know their voices are being heard.
To ensure teachers feel heard and valued, a growing number of school districts are embracing customer experience as a function of their HR departments.
Fort Bend ISD in Texas, for instance, launched Talent Connection. Powered by K12 Insight’s Let’s Talk! customer service solution, the online portal allows employees and prospective employees to engage the district’s HR department in conversations about important topics, such as onboarding, employee records, or benefits.
Gwyn Touchet, Fort Bend ISD’s executive director of human resources, says the portal is fueling better engagement among teachers and staff.
“The frustration on our customers’ part, from long response times or misinformation has subsided,” she says. “We’re able to provide an exceptional experience, and our customers view our department more positively now.”
4. Make teachers feel appreciated
When it comes to teacher satisfaction, a little acknowledgement can go a long way.
“Acknowledge the great work that teachers do,” says AASA’s Domenech, “and thank them for their work. Recognize them at staff meetings and in front of the community. Consider how you can reward them for a job well done, such as with bonuses and incentives.”
To learn more about how to engage and empower teachers and staff in your school or district, check out K12 Insight’s white paper, “All together now: 4 keys to better teacher engagement.”