The United States is facing a teacher shortage. According to a new report from the Learning Policy Institute, the shortage stands to get worse. A U.S. News and World Report article maintains that “teacher attrition is the biggest issue” in education. There has been significant focus on recruiting the (few) new teachers in the job market. The article from U.S. News and World Report indicates that policymakers should focus on ways to hold onto the teachers already employed in districts, especially those in hard-to-staff schools. Rather than place the responsibility on policymakers, I believe schools and districts can also do a great deal to improve teacher retention by understanding these three determining factors.
- Provide teachers with high-quality leadership
The Wallace Foundation writes about the importance of qualities of an effective principal or building leader. It’s not surprising that according to “Leadership Matters – What the Research Says About the Importance of Principal Leadership” leadership is second only to classroom instruction among all school-related factors that contribute to student learning.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics Teacher Follow-Up Survey (TFS), of the teachers who left the teaching profession after the 2012-2013 school year, 21% of the teachers leaving the profession cited “dissatisfied with administration” as a reason for leaving.
One can imagine the frustration of the teacher with a principal who doesn’t have a vision for the future or an understanding of what effective instruction looks like. Couple this with a lack of soliciting teacher feedback, and that frustration can turn into resignation.
Building leaders play a crucial role in addressing teacher shortages.
- Recognize Excellence
“The Widget Effect”—a report from TNTP (formerly known as The New Teacher Project)—(Weisberg et al. 2009) addresses “our national failure to acknowledge and act on the differences in teacher effectiveness.” Prior to the so-called “Educator Evaluation Revolution,” most evaluation systems did not make any differentiation between teachers in terms of effectiveness. Typically, teachers were either rated “Satisfactory” or “Unsatisfactory” with no additional other descriptors. “The Widget Effect” summed up the problem this way:
In practice, teacher evaluation systems devalue instructional effectiveness by generating performance information that reflects virtually no variation among teachers at all. This fundamental failing has a deeply insidious effect on teachers and schools by institutionalizing indifference when it comes to performance. As a result, important variations between teachers vanish. Excellence goes unrecognized, development is neglected, and poor performance goes unaddressed. (10)
Excellence needs to be valued; people need to be valued. One positive outcome of the Educator Evaluation Revolution was not only its emphasis on identifying excellence, but also how it helped even excellent teachers improve. Good (not necessarily ‘proficient’ or ‘effective’) teachers crave feedback and want to improve their craft, even in a slight way. Incremental improvements in teaching can make all the difference to one child.
Are even the smallest improvements worth the extra effort? We think so. We know that if that good (and ever-improving) teacher receives helpful feedback and is supported in their work, they are much less likely to look elsewhere for a positive work environment.
- Address Poor Performance
Another oversight that The Widget Effect identified was the lack of consequences for poor teacher performance. Evaluations that are done well can help teachers at all levels improve. Teachers recognize when a novice (or struggling) teacher is not given the resources they need in order to improve. If the district is providing support and teacher growth remains stagnant, then adjustments need to be made. Ultimately, removing underperforming teachers is one of the many necessary steps in building a thriving teacher workforce.
If we continue to hire quality teachers without ongoing performance feedback and professional development, we will keep seeing this rise in teacher shortages as teachers search for work in other districts or even career options outside of education. If, on the other hand, we provide superior leadership that promotes a positive and nurturing environment and encourages excellence, teachers will not only stay—they will thrive.