Virginia’s public schools are in crisis. A severe shortage of qualified teachers leaves schools understaffed; consequently, Virginia’s students are underserved. Data show that 10,900 teachers left the workforce ahead of the 2022-23 school year, while Virginia schools hired only 7,208 teachers with first-time licenses. These numbers tell the story: teachers are leaving Virginia schools in high numbers without being replaced. The reasons teachers are leaving vary, but the widespread nature of the phenomenon makes it clear that teacher retention is a problem in Virginia. Schools and districts seeking to hire and retain teachers must address the problems that motivate teachers to leave the profession by developing quality teacher retention plans that prioritize teachers’ safety, security, and professional development.
Why Are Virginia Teachers Leaving the Profession?
In its 2022 Pandemic Impact on K-12 Public Education report, the Virginia Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) found that “prior to the pandemic, there were about 800 vacant teaching positions statewide, on average.” That number rose “substantially” to about 2,800 vacant positions in October 2021 and 3,300 as of mid-August 2022. Teacher turnover during the pandemic shutdown school years reached a crisis level.
This shortage exacerbates an already challenging set of circumstances for Virginia teachers. According to the JLARC report, teachers are experiencing lower job satisfaction due to low pay, increased behavioral and mental health challenges among students, and a lack of respect from parents. When teachers leave the profession in response to these challenges, positions are left vacant. These vacancies increase the workloads of remaining teachers and force them to give up planning and break periods to cover classes without instructors. Teachers are also leaving Virginia’s public schools for other reasons, including teaching at public schools or pursuing non-teaching jobs that nurture a higher quality of life, moving due to a spouse’s job change, and changing professions entirely.
According to Dr. James J. Fedderman, President of the Virginia Education Association (VEA), the reasons for the teacher shortage in Virginia are not a mystery: Virginia teachers “are not only underpaid but do their jobs under almost unbearably difficult working conditions. They don’t get the respect they deserve, and they aren’t given the resources they need to most effectively serve our students.” In the face of this reality, Virginia school leaders must develop quality teacher retention plans that make teaching a sustainable career choice.
How Can Virginia Improve Teacher Retention?
To stem the tide of Virginia teachers leaving the profession, Governor Glen Youngkin issued a 2022 Executive Directive to “address the Commonwealth’s teacher shortages by removing obstacles that prevent qualified individuals from filling critical vacancies.” In practical terms, this means making teacher licensure more flexible to accommodate teachers licensed out of state, teachers with expired licenses, retirees, and people changing careers. The directive also aims to increase the availability of child care to teachers, enhance teacher recruitment efforts, and institute professional apprenticeship programs among teachers.
While these efforts to bring new teachers into Virginia schools may help increase the number of teachers in classrooms, they do not strike at the heart of the teacher shortage problem, according to the VEA. The state’s largest union recommends a concrete set of solutions to make teaching a sustainable career in Virginia:
- Pay educators competitive salaries to attract and retain high-quality staff.
- Increase additional aid to high-poverty schools through the At-Risk Add-On (supplemental funding for school districts with high concentrations of students living in poverty).
- Lift the “support cap,” which limits state aid for critical school positions.
- Invest in community school models to break down barriers to education faced by many students.
- Fully fund the Standards of Quality set by the Virginia Board of Education.
Why Teachers Stay
The VEA’s recommendations underscore what we already know: to recruit and retain great teachers, schools must offer teachers long-term incentives and provide the resources they need to support the students most in need. A quality teacher retention plan includes adequate teacher compensation and creates an environment rich in tradition that grants autonomy to teachers. Schools must also offer teachers ample opportunities to learn and professionalize. According to the Economic Policy Institute, “By failing to provide teachers with broad access to effective training and professional development, as well as to learning communities where their professional judgment is considered, we hurt teachers’ effectiveness, sense of purpose, and career advancement opportunities.”
Safety Nurtures a Healthy School Climate and Teacher Retention
Creating a climate of safety in schools is also a critical element of teacher retention. School safety isn’t just about preventing violence. It’s about creating safe spaces for teachers and students to connect. When a school facilitates personal connections and a sense of belonging, its teachers feel “at home” professionally. Teachers stay in buildings that cultivate healthy relationships, particularly among school staff.
A healthy school climate nurtures a sense of physical and social-emotional safety for teachers and students. Schools can achieve this by developing a school safety plan everyone can follow. Particularly at the start of a new school year, teachers may need guidance on handling threats to students’ safety or health. Students need to adjust from each of their home lives to the classroom expectations. Everyone needs to understand the school safety plan for responding to everyday incidents, from bullying and behavior problems to extreme emergencies like natural disasters and intruders.
CENTEGIX CrisisAlert™ Creates a Climate of Safety
Teachers feel distressed when they can’t get the help they need. Conversely, they feel supported when clear safety protocols exist and are followed. This is especially true when a student is in crisis or a conflict escalates to a threat of violence. In Virginia, teachers often cite a challenging student population that includes behavior issues as reasons for their lack of contentment at work. Teachers in these situations need to be able to request and receive immediate support.
An effective school alert system facilitates this effective communication during crises on school campuses. The CENTEGIX CrisisAlert™ system includes a discreet, wearable panic button that provides critical aid during stressful situations. With CrisisAlert™, every staff member can call for help. Amid the bustle of a school day, teachers may need assistance in a wide variety of emergencies:
- allergic reactions
- student elopement
- student conflicts or other escalated behavior
- other life-threatening emergencies
In the unfortunate event that any of these crises occur, teachers wearing a CrisisAlert™ badge have instant access to assistance from the staff members best prepared to intervene. The sense of security this produces creates a healthy school climate in which everyone’s physical and social-emotional safety is prioritized.
CrisisAlert™ is the cornerstone of a quality teacher retention plan. Teachers who feel safe and understand that they will receive support in an emergency can put more energy into their work. Their work takes on greater meaning when this is true, and job satisfaction increases. CrisisAlert™ is a practical way to improve teacher retention by increasing teacher and student safety on school campuses.
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.