The teacher shortage in the United States is a cause for worry among education leaders, parents, and decision-makers, causing us to ask what factors affect teacher retention.

Teachers are leaving the profession because of:

  • poor salaries
  • bad working conditions
  • lack of professional development opportunities
  • low levels of job satisfaction
  • toxic school climates

Teachers of color are leaving at higher rates than their non-minority counterparts. This is cause for concern, as studies increasingly show that students of all backgrounds benefit from learning from diverse teachers. Minority students, who the education system has left behind for too long, reap the most significant benefits, with fewer suspensions and higher test scores when they have at least one minority teacher. 

Retaining all teachers, especially diverse teachers, is in everyone’s best interest to serve our children. A teacher retention program addresses issues related to teacher turnover and leads to happier, more experienced teachers, resulting in a better educational experience for students. Some things, like pay range, may be out of school leaders’ control, but all schools can work to build a more positive, inclusive, and supportive environment.

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) initiatives—including professional development and leadership opportunities, encouraging equitable and culturally-responsive classrooms, and providing resources like mentorship programs to support a diverse teacher population—help create an environment that promotes teacher retention and career growth. Students and teachers will benefit greatly. 

Creating an Inclusive Environment 

Acknowledging that there is room for improvement in your DEI efforts is an important place to begin. Transforming a school’s culture is a long process that begins and continues with having difficult-but-essential conversations. 

Intentional hiring strategies are another crucial step. Students from all backgrounds benefit from the most diverse classroom environment possible. But if your school doesn’t work to create an equitable and inclusive work environment, even if you employ a diverse staff, you’ll struggle to maintain one. 

This can begin with a top-down strategy. Principals of color lead to incredible outcomes for students and staff, including:

  • higher test scores, better attendance, and increased likelihood of gifted program placement for minority students
  • more inclusive teacher hiring practices and less turnover for same-race teachers
  • higher job satisfaction and movement into administrative positions for same-race teachers

Offering professional development training that focuses on anti-racist education, as well as anti-racist colleagueship, can ensure that all staff members are welcoming to students, parents, and fellow teachers of color. Faculty of all ranks should attend professional development around DEI themes and other helpful topics, such as trauma-informed education, self-care for educators, and technology. Staff members should have input on the professional development topics and support they need. 

Creating equitable and culturally responsive classrooms will take time. However, encouraging teachers to place their students’ identities and voices at the forefront of their work will begin this continuous and vital change. Educational leaders and teachers must first analyze their own identities and how they intertwine with the identities of those in their schools. Understanding how we are socialized to consciously and unconsciously participate in systems of oppression is critical to successfully building an equitable and culturally responsive culture.

By doing this hard work in ourselves and facilitating this hard work in others, including having conversations and holding each other accountable, we can create a sense of belonging for teachers and students of all backgrounds. 

Using Data to Support a Diverse Teaching Population 

Use data to inform school policies and practices for hiring and retaining a diverse workforce. For example, Washington’s Professional Educator Standards Board (PESB) conducted two studies to develop data-backed policies to recruit and retain diverse teachers. One analyzed the state’s preparation and career pathways, focusing on the areas where candidates of color were most likely to leave, and the other studied educators with limited teaching certificates and the obstacles preventing them from earning full certification. PESB was able to launch responsive policies to the information they uncovered.   

Furthermore, data can be used to evaluate the success of new and/or improved DEI efforts. Although we cannot expect immediate results with increased DEI efforts, we should consistently monitor the impact to ensure time, energy, and focus are spent in the right direction. 

The first few years of any career can be difficult, and teaching is no exception. Mentorship programs—pairing a new teacher with an experienced teacher in the first few years—provide additional support new teachers need to be successful. 

To measure the efficiency of a mentorship program, look at:

  • hard data (i.e., percentage of teachers remaining at school after one, three, and five years in the mentorship program vs. new teacher retention statistics at other schools in the district) 
  • soft data (i.e., formal surveys and informal testimonials from teachers participating in the program, feedback from parents and students). 

Many people have dedicated their careers to studying and creating the best resources for multicultural education. Providing data-backed resources for your faculty creates more culturally-responsive and inclusive classrooms. 

Resources could include:

  • lesson plans
  • texts and films
  • teaching strategies
  • learning plans

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, but having a library of resources for teachers to refer to can support them in making their classrooms spaces where all students feel seen, heard, and understood.

Another perhaps unexpected place to use data in addressing the factors affecting teacher retention is in your school’s safety plan. If set up intentionally, a school alert system can collect valuable data useful for measuring the outcomes of DEI efforts. For example, the number, type, and location of alerts deployed by wearable emergency buttons create a data set for school leaders to interpret. Leaders should consider how bias plays into deploying a wearable emergency button. What do students look like who are prompting teachers to initiate an alert? This can help you spot a problem with bias among your staff that can be addressed with increased DEI training and workshops. 

Creating a Positive School Climate with a School Safety Plan

Teachers of all backgrounds deserve to feel safe and supported at work. Having a strong school safety plan in place, with wearable emergency buttons for all staff, can help teachers feel secure and confident that the administration cares about their safety. Teachers can use a wearable emergency button in a variety of situations, from a runaway student to a verbally aggressive parent.

Promoting acceptance and respect for all teachers means having a zero-tolerance policy for racist, sexist, ableist, and other hateful comments from students, parents, administrators, and all other faculty and staff members. A policy needs to be in place for staff members to report these incidents, including emergency plans. But the work doesn’t stop there. Unless schools take these incidents seriously and have real consequences for perpetrators, teachers from minority groups will continue to feel devalued and unsafe at their schools, and schools will continue to have problems recruiting and retaining a diverse teaching staff. 

Of course, all teachers deserve not to just survive, but thrive in their careers. In addition to providing professional development training, resources for multicultural education, and safety measures like wearable safety buttons, what support and resources are you offering teachers for career growth? Retaining teachers is work that stretches beyond those early years, especially for diverse teachers. Remember that the work of DEI is not the responsibility of teachers of color, and they should not face undue burdens to strategize culturally relevant practices or support students of color. The ongoing work of making great experiences for teachers and students is a responsibility—and an opportunity—for all of us. 

CENTEGIX is the leader in incident response solutions. Our CrisisAlert platform is the fastest and easiest way for staff to call for help in any emergency, from the everyday to the extreme. CENTEGIX creates safer spaces by innovating technology to empower and protect people, and leaders nationwide trust our safety solutions to provide peace of mind. To learn more about CENTEGIX, visit www.centegix.com.