As of the start of the 2018 school year, approximately 35 states are experiencing teacher shortages. The dearth of qualified teachers, in part, results from teacher attrition—due to retirement, dissatisfaction, and a variety of other factors. The challenges faced by teachers and other personnel have become highlighted in news coverage of teacher walkouts, strikes, and protests nationwide, with teachers demanding improvements in areas like salary, education funding, staffing levels, and quality of facilities.
Teacher engagement, satisfaction, and retention have become important points of emphasis for many districts. We’ve found that districts use a combination of four strategies to attract and retain quality teachers to ensure classrooms are adequately staffed: Attracting quality candidates, resolving factors that drive teacher attrition, increasing focus on the connection between engagement and retention, and driving staff diversity have all emerged as areas for districts to improve in addressing teacher attrition.
1. Attract Quality Teaching Candidates
With 84% of surveyed school districts identified teacher recruitment as one of their top three priorities, districts are expected to leverage a variety of factors to attract candidates for open teaching positions. A 2017 survey of a nationally representative sample of more than 500 K-12 teachers asked educators what districts should do differently to find and hire high-quality teachers; 26% replied that districts should offer more professional autonomy, greater respect, and better working conditions, while 17% requested that schools provide mentoring, support, and training.
Many districts, as well as state legislators, are now focusing on providing these benefits to improve recruitment and hiring; after its teacher walkout, Arizona signed an education funding bill, which includes increased funding for support staff, new textbooks, and upgraded technology and infrastructure. Districts—especially those in hard-to-staff areas (e.g., rural and urban)—will need to assess their recruiting strategies, incentives, and workplace culture to ensure that positions at their schools are as attractive as possible.
2. Resolve the Factors that Drive Teachers Away
With 7% of teachers planning to exit the profession as soon as possible, teacher retention is a top focus for districts nationwide. Research identifies several common factors that influence a teacher’s decision to seek a position at a different school or leave the profession entirely, including low compensation, limited preparation and training, and poor working conditions. Districts, especially those in urban locals, not only lose meaningful educators due to retention challenges; each departing teacher can, on average, cost urban districts as much as $20,000.
Given these challenges, districts seek to understand staff needs and perceptions and evaluate the motivating factors driving teacher exit from their particular contexts. An Education Week survey of educators clarifies key factors influencing whether teachers stay with or leave their current professions: 18% requested improved leadership support, 17% cited salary considerations, and 17% named enhanced school climate. By focusing on teacher needs, districts can better able to retain staff at a time when open positions are becoming increasingly harder to fill.
3. Increase Teaching Engagement
A significant factor influencing teachers’ retention is their level of engagement with their daily work. Only 34% of teachers say they are engaged with their job, while 46% of K-12 teachers report high daily stress during the school year. Disengagement does not just affect low performers—high-performing educators are just as likely to quit their jobs, making employee engagement a necessary focus for districts moving forward. Districts can enhance teacher engagement by listening to and incorporating teachers’ requests into school policy, providing training and development opportunities, and collaborating together to co-design district-wide initiatives.
In addition, district and school leaders are looking for avenues to expand teachers’ opportunities for leadership, collaboration, decision-making, and innovation. Since the 2013-2014 school year, Denver schools have increased differentiated teacher roles with goals such as providing teacher coaching and growth, strengthening collaboration, and increasing peer-to-peer knowledge sharing. Ninety-eight percent of the initiative’s Team Leads report believing they have grown as leaders while in their roles; similar programs also report increased teacher engagement due to expanded teacher leadership roles. Such opportunities can help teachers pursue areas of interest and leverage their strengths while positively impacting their students and schools.
4. Commit to Staff Diversity
According to government data, approximately 80% of teachers are white, non-Hispanic individuals, representing a tremendous disparity with the racial and ethnic demographics of today’s K-12 student population. Male African-American and Latino teachers are in particularly short supply to teach the increasingly diverse public school population, which has been majority children of color since 2014. In addition, black and Hispanic teachers retain their jobs at lower rates than white teachers, in part due to the challenges experienced in schools with higher rates of poverty, with which they are largely employed.
In the coming years, diversifying teaching staff will be a top priority for districts to tap into the numerous benefits of a diverse workforce. Teacher diversity lets students of color see representations of their race among the leaders in their lives, experience fewer cultural differences in their learning, and achieve greater student achievement—numerous studies have found improvements in math and reading achievements among students who were taught by same-race teachers. In addition, diverse teaching staff provide unique perspectives that white students may not encounter in their daily lives, informing their learning and worldview. Districts can drive staff diversity through initiatives such as developing inclusive admissions policies, increasing access to high-quality teacher preparation, encouraging legislators to offer programs encouraging more students of color to pursue teaching careers, and providing ongoing mentoring and support.