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Strategies for Schools To Consider When Addressing Teacher Turnover

June 10, 2024

A young student taking a quiz in a classroom

Teacher turnover is one of the biggest roadblocks in front of school administrators. Rising job vacancies mean higher costs, lower student performance, and a demoralized, destabilized school atmosphere. 

However, when school leaders and administrators understand the causes of teacher turnover, they can start implementing creative solutions. 

Below, we’ll explore the causes of teacher burnout in detail. We’ve also collected six strategies to help you improve conditions for educators and reduce teacher turnover, so you can clear the roadblocks to quality education.

What School Leadership Should Know About Teacher Turnover

Teacher turnover refers to the rate of staff changes in schools. Whenever educators leave a role—or leave the teaching profession altogether—it contributes to teacher turnover.

It’s not quite the same as teacher attrition rates, which is the number of teachers leaving the profession altogether. However, much like teacher attrition, high turnover rates have negative effects throughout the school system. 

Teachers struggle with inadequate resources, heavy workloads, and uncertainty concerning the future of education. The stress of the situation pushes more and more teachers to quit, which is a big part of why there is a teacher shortage in school districts across America.

The vast majority of the demand for new teachers in the U.S. is driven by experienced teachers leaving the profession. With less consistency in staffing, schools struggle to maintain behavioral and academic standards.

Finally, student learning is likely to be affected, especially for Black, Hispanic, low-income, and special education students. 

Key Causes of Teacher Turnover

A quick Google search will bring up hundreds of theories from educational policymakers, think tanks, and journalists about what causes teacher turnover rates. The list ranges from post-pandemic student behavior to political tensions. 

But public school teachers themselves are pretty clear about where the problems lie. Low compensation, limited resources, and a lack of support all contribute to the number of teachers leaving the profession.

In particular, American teachers say that administrators don’t understand or recognize the challenges they face. Educational research based on data from multiple states found that most leave the teacher workforce due to “school organizational conditions.”

That’s good and bad news for administrators. At the moment, the school system clearly isn’t working for teachers. On the other hand, the data suggests that school-level organizational changes could help reduce teacher turnover rates.

Excessive Workload

American teachers work longer hours than educators in almost every other country. In addition to teaching and managing the classroom, they’re also responsible for planning lessons, marking students’ work, and accommodating special requirements for individual students. 

They also have to record data, fill out paperwork, and sometimes even support students’ mental health and supply classrooms from their own resources. The excessive workload leads to unsustainable working conditions. Their work-life balance suffers—which means that even experienced, effective teachers can burn out. 

Burnt-out teachers are more likely to change roles or leave the profession. The increased turnover means more job vacancies and an even heavier workload on the teachers who remain, worsening the problem further.

Lack of Resources

Teachers say they lack support in two ways. First, it’s difficult to get the material resources they need—things like textbooks, digital devices, and even pens and pencils.

Second, many teachers say they lack support from school leaders and administrators. In fact, 44% have to create their own curriculums, and 91% have to take work home because they simply don’t have enough time in the day to manage their increasing workloads.

Since the pandemic, behavior and attendance have also become major challenges in many school districts. A significant portion of teachers say that students come to school unprepared and their parents are unwilling to intervene. And more than 20% of teachers have been threatened or physically attacked at work. 

They urgently need support from administrators to help improve school culture and community attitudes. 

Low Compensation and Benefits

Teachers are paid less than most other graduate professions. In 2022, the “teacher penalty,” or teacher pay gap, hit almost 25%

Low compensation and benefits mean that teachers are demotivated and stressed about making ends meet. They’re likely to leave the profession for other better-paid jobs, especially since they have highly desirable transferable skills.

Hard-pressed school districts are often reluctant to raise salaries. But high rates of teacher turnover are arguably more expensive in the long term.

Poor School Leadership

School leadership and culture are important factors in teacher turnover. Educators are more likely to leave a school where they feel unsupported, unsafe, or unempowered. 

Unfortunately, teacher turnover has a negative feedback effect—as more teachers leave, the school culture becomes less stable and cohesive, reinforcing the problem. 

But it’s equally possible for good school leadership to turn things around. Principals play a key role in establishing a culture that makes teachers want to stay.

For example, in one pilot study for high-poverty schools, a new elementary school principal made three key changes to improve teacher retention:

  • Instead of focusing on an abstract vocational mission, they promoted an idea of service to the community.
  • Instead of scoring teachers’ performance on a day-by-day basis, they encouraged teachers to proactively seek feedback and advice when they needed it.
  • They took administrative tasks away from teachers so that they could focus completely on their students.

By remodeling the school culture, workloads, and resources, these school leaders effectively encouraged teachers to stay.

Strategies To Reduce and Address Teacher Turnover Effectively

There is no single teacher shortage solution. Every school in every district is different.

However, what former teachers say about the profession suggests some key steps to take moving forward. It comes down to this: educators leave when they don’t have adequate compensation, resources, or support.

Here’s how administrators can start addressing those needs.

Offer Competitive Compensation Packages

There’s no debate to be had here. Teachers are chronically underpaid. School districts that offer competitive salaries and benefits will find it easier to recruit and retain high-quality teachers.

While there may be limits on how much you can raise salaries, benefits can be easier to tweak. Health benefits, retirement funds, performance bonuses, and retention bonuses are likely to attract qualified teachers. 

Provide Career and Professional Development Opportunities

One way that you can empower teachers and support their career growth is through continuous professional development—with a clear pathway to advancement and increased compensation. 

Professional development requirements vary by state, and your teachers may not be aware of all of their options. A master list of approved development opportunities can point them in the right direction, and you can also look for grants that help cover professional development costs.

Conduct Comprehensive Exit Interviews

Every school district is different. But how exactly is your school district different?

Knowledge is power, as they say, and the first step in reducing turnover rates is to understand exactly why teachers are leaving. Then, district leaders can work to eliminate the most common causes of teacher turnover in their area.

If you want to find out what departing teachers really think, you need to conduct exit interviews. To help spot patterns in the responses, you could also ask teachers to fill in a written survey alongside the in-person interview.

Some helpful questions to ask are:

  • Why did you decide to leave?
  • When did you decide to leave?
  • What did you most and least enjoy about your work here?
  • Do you feel that you received adequate training and support?
  • Is there anything you would change about how the school is organized?

Implement Teacher Mentorship Programs

One easy way to give teachers more support is by strengthening the connections between them. Experienced educators can mentor new hires. Teachers at all levels can run “skill swaps” to share knowledge and build up each others’ skills.

Mentorship has been shown to improve job satisfaction, and it’s a win-win—mentors feel empowered and respected, while mentees feel supported and guided.

Enhance Teacher Support and Resources

Educators also need comprehensive support from district leaders, including:

  • Access to technology to help manage workloads
  • Access to technology for use in the classroom
  • Adequate classroom supplies so that teachers don’t have to fund their own classes
  • Administrative support so that teachers can focus on their students
  • A work-life balance and mental health support to prevent burnout 

Create a Positive Work Culture District-Wide

School and district leaders have an important role to play beyond deciding budgets and distributing resources. They also set the organizational culture in schools.

In a positive school culture, teachers feel respected, heard, and supported. Students come to class ready to study, and their parents encourage them to work hard and behave well. There’s a shared sense of purpose that steers everyone through the school year. 

Leaders and administrators can help create that culture by:

  • Promoting collaboration and knowledge-sharing between teachers and schools
  • Encouraging teachers and students to get involved with community initiatives
  • Recognizing teachers and students who make positive contributions to the school
  • Maintaining an open-door policy to hear feedback from teachers and students

Ensure a Stable Teaching Workforce With Elevate K-12

Teacher turnover rates have a real impact on student outcomes, teacher well-being, and school culture. Unfortunately, teacher turnover is increasing, leading to nationwide teacher shortages. 

The most common reasons why teachers leave are a lack of compensation, resources, and support. School leaders and administrators can act on those issues immediately to retain more teachers. 

Elevate K-12 is here to help with extra resources and fully certified LIVE teachers. We eliminate geographical hiring barriers to put the right teachers in your classrooms. All of our teachers are experienced, highly trained professionals, and we fully support them with fair compensation, continuing education, and valuable feedback. 

Find out how we’re helping schools mitigate the impact of teacher turnover with LIVE teaching.

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