Teacher retention presents an ongoing challenge for districts across the U.S.
Shortages and attrition of qualified K-12 teachers plagued districts even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
When COVID-19 required many schools to tackle distance, hybrid, and in-person learning challenges, teachers grew even more unsure about their careers and whether they would leave. During the 2020-2021 school year, nearly half of teachers considered retiring.
U.S. public schools currently employ 567,000 fewer teachers than they did before the pandemic, according to the National Education Association.
Teacher turnover can harm student learning and achievement, diminish the quality of education, and discourage people from entering the profession in the first place.
Some districts have reduced starting qualification standards to quickly fill open teaching positions in their schools. While this may fill a temporary need in the classroom, it ultimately places new teachers in an unfair position where too much is expected of them once they’re hired, which can leave faculty feeling overburdened. A survey of district leaders revealed that 16% of the new teachers hired in 2020–2021 didn’t feel fully prepared for the demands of the job. This marked an almost 80% increase since the 2014–2015 school year.
Teachers are more likely to succeed and less likely to quit when they’re given a clear idea of the job preparation necessary, and when their districts can provide support and pathways for those entering the profession.
While there are a variety of factors and conditions that contribute to teacher shortages, the fact is that many teachers have voiced dissatisfaction with their jobs in recent years.
Some of the key reasons teachers have said they are leaving include:
- Feeling burned out from COVID-19
- Insufficient compensation and resources
- Being overworked due to school staffing shortages
- Feeling unprepared to manage job expectations
- Lack of support
- Concerns for personal safety
Among these, feeling unsafe ranked among the top three considerations of teachers planning on leaving the profession.
While the pandemic placed a heavy burden on teachers in an already strained job market, many educators were already leaving. Districts struggle to fill the demand with new teachers, making better teacher retention practices more critical than ever.
Table of Contents:
- Why Teacher Retention Matters
- What Teachers Need to Improve Retention
- Barriers to Giving Teachers What They Want
- School Safety: A Rising Concern
- How CrisisAlert Helps Improve Teacher Retention
Why Teacher Retention Matters
With existing teacher shortages and so many faculty members and administrators thinking of leaving the profession, districts across the country feel the urgency to make teacher retention a top priority. There are many reasons why retention matters, as the negative impacts a teacher exodus has on schools and learning can’t be overstated.
Impact on Student Learning Outcomes
High turnover and resulting teacher shortages can have a detrimental effect on student learning and achievement. When schools don’t have enough teachers, they may cancel classes or fill those spots with those who are underqualified. This impacts the entire student body.
When school stability is disrupted, the resulting ripple effect harms the entire school environment. Turnover makes it more difficult for faculty and staff to form the relationships needed to collaborate and build and achieve educational goals as a community.
Research shows that students in grade levels with lower teacher retention scored lower in the subjects of English language arts and math. Not only that, students of color, who already face long-standing issues of disparity in equity practices, bear the brunt of the teacher shortage. Turnover for schools with higher percentages of African American students led to more learning outcome challenges in those schools, according to the same research.
Lack of Qualified Teachers
To fill classrooms, schools may be forced to bring in teachers who are underqualified and unprepared for the role. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to retain teachers without the education and training support they need. The connection between teacher retention and job preparation is clear.
- Faculty members with little or no teaching education or training are two-to-three times more likely to quit than those who are fully trained and certified.
- High levels of out-of-field teaching lead to lower test scores and leave those teachers less able to evoke critical thinking and subject interest.
- Certified teachers provide better results in the classroom than their unprepared peers and have higher retention rates.
Attrition and Turnover
While poor teacher recruitment can lead to shortages, much of it is caused by attrition and turnover. This matters because a majority of classroom vacancies are created by teachers who leave the profession.
The Learning Policy Institute estimates that 90% of open teaching positions are from teachers who left their jobs, with two-thirds of those leaving for reasons other than reaching retirement age.
In addition, the report shows teacher turnover at almost 25% when teachers feel administrators don’t encourage or acknowledge staff, communicate a clear vision, or run their school well.
Better teacher retention practices, such as continued training and support for faculty, can be highly effective in reducing shortages and improving outcomes for schools.
Any effective solution begins with acknowledging the challenges teachers face, whether it’s managing their day-to-day workload, being better prepared and supported with the right resources and staff, or feeling safe in the classroom. Once schools understand what their teachers need to thrive, they can implement the right systems to make teachers feel heard.
Poor teacher retention comes with inflated staffing costs. The fact is that districts will pay much more to hire new teachers than to retain the ones they have.
Urban school districts spend an average of over $20,000 per teacher when it comes to recruiting, training, and hiring costs. When you translate that across the U.S., schools are spending over $7 billion per year on hiring new teachers. What’s worse, schools with low student performance and high levels of poverty see an even bigger impact, where those schools can’t afford to hire qualified candidates or give teachers the right tools to succeed.
Poor teacher retention can lead to negative outcomes for K-12 schools that impact students, cause underqualified teachers to quit out of frustration, and balloon staffing costs for school districts.
What Teachers Need to Improve Retention
Improving teacher retention is no easy task, and not every district will be equipped to enact every solution. Further, some retention strategies may fit better than others depending on the unique conditions of each school and district.
Teachers have expressed some common needs that, if implemented, could help them feel more confident and satisfied in the classroom. Better pay, work conditions, and administrative support can benefit teachers and schools and improve retention rates.
Whereas lower hiring standards lead to unprepared teachers and struggling students, offering competitive salaries will improve retention rates, attract new teachers, and provide a net benefit to schools.
Teachers often feel overstressed and must work more hours for less pay, and many have to work second jobs to make ends meet. What’s worse, the pay gap has continued to widen over the past several decades.
- One-third of teachers who left their jobs said they worked 56 hours or more weekly.
- 64% said the pay wasn’t enough for the risk and stress they experienced.
- Higher salaries for teachers benefit everyone—boosting pay by 10% lowers high school dropout rates by 3% to 4%.
Even a modest rise in salaries can attract more highly qualified college graduates and keep high-performing faculty members from leaving. Many states and districts are seeing the benefit of offering competitive teaching salaries and are raising pay rates to attract and retain teachers.
Improved Work Conditions
Many teachers feel overstressed and unsatisfied with conditions working in the classroom, such as having to buy supplies or manage too many students at once without adequate assistance. These conditions lead to increased stress and set teachers up for failure.
Hiring more teaching assistants to reduce the teacher-to-student ratio and cover the demand for substitutes can lower workloads and stress levels, though hiring additional staff isn’t always feasible.
Yet any efforts to improve working conditions, such as offering more classroom resources, giving teachers more self-directed time to complete work, offering teacher residencies, and incorporating teacher policy suggestions.
Safety and Support from Administrators
Teachers need and want to feel supported by administrators and policymakers. This includes everything from having a clear supervisory chain of command they can rely on, to positive and encouraging work culture, to providing more mentoring and mental health support for teachers and students.
A 2021 RAND Corporation survey found that a higher proportion of teachers suffer job-related stress and depression symptoms than the general adult population. The pandemic only exacerbated the issue, worsening stress, depression, and burnout symptoms.
COVID-19 has also led to an increase in behavioral issues in the classroom once students returned from months of distance learning. Because of this, many schools have seen a higher rate of harassment and violence directed at teachers.
This has led to a pressing need for more student mental health support, as well as improved protocols for teacher safety and early identification of students who could potentially become violent.
Witnessing a lack of social and emotional development in students due to prolonged distance learning conditions, schools have placed a heavy focus on counseling versus disciplinary measures. As an example, some districts are now placing students who have behavioral incidents in counseling rather than suspending them—as well as offering additional psychological support like mental health days for staff and students.
Yet when incidents do occur, teachers need to feel safe and prepared. Having a fast, easy, and effective emergency alert system in place for teachers when an incident occurs helps them feel supported and gives them the ability to do their jobs more effectively, with the security of knowing that they can call for help when needed for any incident they face in the classroom–be it a medical emergency or a potential altercation.
Barriers to Giving Teachers What They Want
Schools face a variety of challenges in improving teacher satisfaction and, by extension, retention rates. One issue is that schools don’t experience teacher turnover at the same rates or even for the same reasons.
Many independent factors unique to individual teachers, schools, and districts can impact their ability to meet the expectations of their faculty members and provide the right tools and support. This means that solutions aren’t universally applicable.
There are some factors districts should consider when building new teacher retention strategies.
- Women are more likely to leave their teaching jobs than men.
- The turnover rate among minority teachers has grown by 45% in recent years.
- Teachers without a traditional university teaching education are more likely to leave the profession or work in urban disadvantaged schools with poor work conditions.
- The highest-paid teachers in high-poverty schools are paid significantly less than the highest-paid teachers in more affluent communities.
- As school leadership improves, the likelihood of teacher turnover decreases.
- An effective principal may offset teacher turnover in disadvantaged schools.
Assessing how teachers in individual schools perceive their working conditions can help districts determine what needs to target to be most efficient and cost-effective. Districts should also keep in mind that investing in retention strategies, such as offering competitive and equitable salaries and targeted bonuses alongside improved working conditions, can save money in the long run versus letting turnover run rampant.
School Safety: A Rising Concern
Safety is a major concern for teachers across the country, as student behavioral incidents are on the rise in frequency and severity. Since the beginning of the pandemic, at least 18% of school psychologists and social workers, 15% of school administrators, and 22% of other school staff reported at least one violent incident by a student. These violent incidents against educators and staff often cause them to feel unsafe and unsupported. 43% of teachers wanted to leave the job and 22% wanted to transfer to another school during the 2020-21 academic year due to student violence.
A study by the Texas American Teachers Federation found that nearly 66% of all Texas teachers considered leaving during the 2021-2022 school year. Along with better pay and a smaller workload, teachers cited workplace safety improvements as a reason they would consider staying in the profession.
The same study found that only 12% of teachers surveyed said they felt safe on campus when the Omicron surge hit.
In March, a 5-year-old special needs student attacked a Florida teacher. The incident caused her to fall and suffer a concussion, among other injuries such as kicking, punching, and biting, landing her in the hospital.
In April, a 16-year-old boy was accused of sexually assaulting and attempting to kill his Las Vegas teacher. The boy was charged with sexual assault, three counts of attempted murder, robbery, and battery with intent to commit sexual assault. Reports say it happened when the teacher was alone with the student in the classroom discussing grades.
When teachers are alone in classrooms it makes them vulnerable to threats or violence from both students and their parents. Many teachers are not equipped to deal with extreme behavior, student mental health issues, or medical emergencies.
Improving school safety measures can take many forms, including improved safety protocols, additional training, early detection of at-risk students and other potential threats, and physical security equipment.
A school’s emergency alert system is the first point of contact a teacher or staff member has when reporting an incident.
In the wake of major crises like the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, many schools have ramped up their school safety plans to protect against any potential emergency on school grounds and prevent major tragedies like what happened in Parkland.
Alyssa’s Law is a piece of school safety legislation named in honor of Parkland shooting victim Alyssa Alhadeff. This law requires Florida’s public elementary and secondary schools to equip their campuses with silent panic alarms linked directly to law enforcement agencies. The purpose is to reduce the time it takes first responders to arrive when there’s an emergency. Alyssa’s law has been proposed in several other states as well.
Legislators and district officials have worked to implement alert systems such as mobile panic button mobile apps, which allow teachers to call for help using their phones or other smart devices. Other popular alert systems include wall-mounted panic buttons, walkie-talkies, and landlines or intercom systems.
Yet each of these systems comes with limitations such as lack of connectivity, lack of access, or lack of simple, discrete communication.
How CrisisAlert Helps Improve Teacher Retention
CENTEGIX CrisisAlert is the fastest and easiest way for teachers to call for help from anywhere on campus. With the simple push of a button, teachers can send an alert to key personnel, without the need to connect to a phone app or use verbal communication.
CrisisAlert also requires no verbal communication and can send a button-activated alert without escalating a classroom incident. It can even be used to call 911 from anywhere on campus without relying on a WiFi or cellular connection.
CrisisAlert meets the strict requirements of Alyssa’s Law, providing schools with a mobile panic alert button that sends instant audio and visual alerts and can integrate with an intercom or two-way radio. With 100% coverage and precise geolocation down to a specific classroom, county, local, and on-site emergency responders can coordinate in real time and take quick, effective action.
Teachers who want to stay in the classroom need to feel safe during the everyday behavioral incident or playground fall, as well as a campus-wide crisis. Centegix offers the ability to call for help quickly, discreetly, and securely to keep everyone on school grounds safe.
CENTEGIX is the leader in incident response solutions. Our CrisisAlert platform is the fastest and easiest way for staff to call for help in an 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.