Educator Retention: Stop the Leak!
Benjamin Franklin once said: “A small leak will sink a great ship." Well, education leaders now face a widening leak that is significantly reducing the number of qualified teachers and other critical school roles.
Retention of the right faculty and families is the number one priority to grow a healthy school. No strategy comes even close to the same impact on the mission, economic goals, and educational outcomes.
Without adjustments in how we recruit, renew, and retain employees, the quality of schools at all levels will struggle.
The U.S. has developed a pattern of higher rates of teachers resigning and retiring compared to the enrollment of students into teaching degree programs. About 86% of PK-12 schools reported struggles in filling vacancies in 2023-24.
Some systems have turned to untrained and even under-qualified educators to fill in the gaps as they operate within the time constraints of an unrelenting calendar.
This includes duct tape strategies like Arizona passing a law allowing undergraduate students without a degree to be primary teachers. Though often undertrained in appropriate strategies for teaching and pedagogy, military veterans are now eligible to teach in Florida. Paraeducators and substitute teachers are being utilized in some school systems as classroom teachers even though they have limited training and experience.
These stop-gap measures may be necessary in the short term, but such disregard for the unique talents and commitments of gifted educators has inevitable negative consequences for students and society.
Creating a sustainable pipeline of qualified and high-quality educators should be a national priority. The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education reported that 44% of adults in the US would not encourage a young person to go into teaching.
Teaching is often thought of as something that comes rather naturally to people who know their subject. In general, it is thought that it is a simple process that produces simple outcomes, but ... it takes place in a complicated social institution, which is filled with diverse people. It is a fluid interplay of events. One cannot just know the subject and teach it, because the subjects themselves are ever changing.
— M.H. Siddiui
How can we shift the momentum on the perception of education as a desirable career path?
Teaching is indeed a noble profession, and we need to start generating a higher level of respect and elevating it as such again. Otherwise, who will teach our children and grandchildren?
Recognizing that success favors the prepared, some innovative school leaders have created a competitive advantage by implementing talent development and cultivation strategies that position them as an employer of choice among their target market of educators.
Refining and elevating their value proposition for employees is vital to this strategy, creating an intentional experience based on fully implemented core values to grow a disciplined, consistent culture.
Think of culture as the school's identity and even personality. It is grounded in behavioral, relational, and organizational norms that distinguish us from others and becomes the lens through which employees, students, parents, vendors, donors, and others experience us.
The way you sustain and improve upon a culture is by fostering a sense of gratitude for what is best about it. You celebrate the good in your story while putting the bad in the correct context.
— Jonah Goldberg
Here are some ways we can stop the leak and elevate authentic excellence in our schools:
- Encourage people in our circle of friendship to pursue the pathway to becoming an educator.
- Financially support students going into teaching, making it a more accessible profession with less debt.
- Encourage, support, and develop paraprofessionals to get their degrees and provide training to set them up for long-term teaching success.
- Engage more experienced educators, encouraging them to delay retirement because of the supportive environment available.
- Cultivate an attitude of gratitude that encourages others to thank a teacher every day and let them know they are valued for their service.